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TRAI’s ‘Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016’

New Delhi: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issued the ‘Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Services Regulations, 2016’ earlier this week. This would disallow service providers to offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content being accessed by a consumer.

TRAI had earlier issued a consultation paper on ‘Differential Pricing for Services’ in December 2015. This consultation primarily sought the views of the stakeholders on whether the service providers should be allowed to charge differential tariffs based on the websites, applications and platforms being accessed on the internet.

Based on the responses received and the internal deliberations, the authority has now issued these regulations. These are aimed at ensuring that consumers get an unhindered and non-discriminatory access to the internet. These regulations intend to make tariffs for access to the internet non-discriminatory on the basis of the content.

An overwhelming number of detailed and well-reasoned responses, representing a diverse set of views were received in the consultation process. There were views suggesting both in support and against ex-ante steps for regulating differential tariff for services based on content. After careful of all the comments and feedback, the authority has decided that ex-ante regulation rather than a case by case tariff intervention regime would be more appropriate as it would give the much-needed certainty to participants.

Such a step is also warranted in view of the high costs of regulation in terms of time and resources that will be required for investigating each case of tariff discrimination. The authority has, therefore, mandated the following:

  1. No service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for services on the basis of content.
  2. No service provider shall enter into any arrangement, agreement or contract, by whatever name called, with any person, natural or legal, that has the effect of discriminatory tariffs for services being offered or charged by the service provider for the purpose of evading the prohibition in this regulation.
  3. Reduced tariff for accessing or providing emergency services at times of public emergency has been permitted.
  4. Financial disincentives for contravention of the regulation have also been specified.

The TRAI had issued a consultation paper, ‘Differential Pricing for Services,’ on 9 December 2015. Opportunity for submitting written comments and counter comments was given to the stakeholders till 7 January and 14 January of this year respectively. An open-house discussion was held on 21 January and further time to submit additional comments was given up to 25 January.

The TRAI will keep a close watch on the implementation of the mandate by the service providers and may undertake a review after 2 years or at an earlier date as it may deem fit.

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