TRAI had earlier invited public comments to firm up its views over services that lead to differential pricing of data. January 14 was the last day for countercomments.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) only received 21 comments from individuals and organisations countering 24 lakh submissions over its paper on differential pricing of data, a key aspect of net neutrality.

Telecom operators, including Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Cellular and Reliance Communications, through industry bodies, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) and Association of Unified Telecom Service of India (AUSPI), countered inputs opposing the idea of pricing the Internet services.

Price differentiation will allow TSPs to cater to specific consumer requirements, including facilitation of access to those segments that are currently unconnected or poorly connected. Price differentiation is a widely adopted business practice used in many industries,” COAI and AUSPI said in their joint countercomments to TRAI.

TRAI had earlier invited public comments to firm up its views over services that lead to differential pricing of data and January 14 was the last date for submitting countercomments on the same.

Internet Democracy Project (IDP), one of the stakeholders, countered the TSPs, saying telecom operators’ comment on Internet-based calling services or VoIP to charge different rates for the Internet and the current debate should not be mixed up.

Another entity, Internet Service Providers Association of India changed its stance slightly in countercomments, saying a blanket ban on non-discriminatory data differential tariff would have an adverse impact on the proliferation of Internet service and may affect tariff innovation.

In light of the above, we believe that data differential tariffs should be permitted subject to this condition that such differential tariff régime should meet the TRAI prescribed principles and TRAI continues to securitise each and every differential tariff plan,” ISPAI said.

While favouring differential pricing for data services, Facebook countered comments that have singled out the Free Basics programme as an example of a zero-rating plan that should be prohibited.

It said commentators have falsely claimed that Facebook uses the data obtained from developers using the Free Basics programme to enhance Facebook products and improve advertising.

That is incorrect; Facebook does not,” the social media giant said.

Facebook’s Free Basics platform provides free access to a certain set of websites.

The social network has come under severe criticism on the ground that such a platform can limit access to websites or applications based on discretion of Facebook.

The social media major also refuted claims that technical requirements that apply to Free Basics developers do not apply to Facebook and that Free Basics is designed primarily to promote switching of existing users between operators.

This is not true and evidence refutes it. In addition, this need not be a material concern since the programme is open to all operators on the same terms in a non-exclusive manner,” Facebook said.

Originally published in The Hindu.