Say cash rewards to promote sites, apps against neutrality.

New Delhi: Telecom regulator Trai proposal to allow apps and websites to subsidise consumer to browse their products through rewards or free data through telecom agnostic platform may explode into a major controversy in the coming days.

Mozilla and other NGOs have opposed different model proposed by Trai for free data. On the other hand telecom operators including Airtel, Vodafone and others operators are also against setting up such a platform by a non-telecom entity.

It is difficult to see how some of the models described in consultation comport with the equal-rating principles or with Trai’s previous regulatory guidance in the Data Services regulation. More specifically, we are concerned that the toll-free API and rewards-based incentives model threaten the open internet and would ultimately undermine Trai goals of protecting Indian users,” said Mozilla.

It said that if the direct money transfer were to be disbursed by content providers or other non-neutral actors based on usage of specific sites, services, applications, this would then effectively result in price discrimination, which is banned under the Differential Pricing Regulation.

Civil society group, Internet Democracy Project (IDP) said that rewarding users for continued use of apps or websites disproportionately benefits already entrenched apps or websites, as opposed to new entrants. It is profitable for big firms to gather users through reward-based platforms, even at the cost of paying for their data use, as their money power and network effects allow them drive out competition from the market,” it said.

IDP also pointed out that if these models are allowed, new entrants who seek to compete with such businesses will then not only have to compete with their products/​services, but will also need to be able to reimburse data used by their customers to stand a chance in the market.

Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI)said that free data should not be permitted in any form as the same would provide unintended benefit to any incumbent ISPs and/​or to content owners/​aggregators with deep pockets.

Meanwhile, telecom operators are against setting up a non-telecom platform to offer free data. Vodafone said that if a telecom service provider (TSP) agnostic platform is to be regulated, then why can a similar platform not be offered by TSPs who already operate under a regulatory framework.”

Originally published in Deccan Chronicle.