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#NetNeutrality: NASSCOM suggests terms under which TRAI can allow Differential Pricing


Need to know

  • Telecom operators should be allowed to promote apps for a maximum of 3 months in exchange for money, but a walled garden should not be allowed
  • Telecom operators should not be allowed to be gatekeepers, but the regulator or an independent non profit can be allowed to give approval to differential pricing of services that are in public interest.
  • Privacy of data should be taken into account while framing policy.
  • NASSCOM’s Net Neutrality criteria: “No discretion to TSPs to censor or block access to any legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices or determine how users use internet.”

Download a copy of the submission here.


1. Lower prices own/partner content/service allowed for up to 3 months: “lower prices for own or partner content/ service should be explicitly disallowed, lower prices in exchange of consideration received from the partner content/service provider should not be allowed, except for the purpose of short term business promotions that have explicit time duration not exceeding 3 months.”

This contradicts NASSCOM’s previous stand (in response to the TRAI’s consultation paper in April) which it has emphasised at the beginning of this submission. That states “No double dipping by Telecom Service Providers. Charges would be levied only from end customers based on data consumption and not from Internet Platforms and Applications.”

Again, later in the paper, NASSCOM contradicts its stance of allowing differential pricing for up to 3 months, by saying:

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“The differential pricing norms should not make such services expensive. Any tariff plan of the telecom service provider should ensure:
1. Innovation without permissions
2. Data charges that are application agnostic
3. Customer has the unfettered right to choose”

2. Regulator should approve differential pricing, not telcos: NASSCOM has sought an increased role for the TRAI in looking at whether telecom operators should be allowed to discriminate between websites/apps/platforms on the basis of price of access. According to NASSCOM:

  • The TRAI may allow or mandate differential pricing for certain types/classes of services that it deems are in public interest, on the basis of explicit directives/approvals. These could be services like “Emergency services, TSPs own maintenance/billing services, wi-fi hotspots”
  • Telecom operators and their partners can submit their proposals, prior to launch. “Such programs should not discriminate between content providers thereby leading to or enabling anticompetitive behavior.”
  • Decisions to approve such telecom operator submissions must be subject to a wider public consultation before arriving at a final decision.
  • Telecom operators should not be allowed to price different kinds of services differently (higher prices for video streaming or ecommerce), “thereby segmenting the Internet”.

2. Oversight mechanism:

  • The TRAI or an independent non-profit entity should provide oversight to this differential pricing, to avoid misuse/ expansion of any authorization given.
  • Non profits with with independent Boards can own and manage such public interest/philanthropic differential pricing programmes. “Such not for profit entities may be allowed to raise funds from multiple sources including TSP / platform provider. All contributions to these not for profit entities should be eligible to be counted as a part of CSR contribution as mandated by Companies Act.”
  • Tariff plans – commercial or non commercial – with concessional rates for public good should require that offer concessional rates with the specific purpose of greater social good should require regulatory approval, and must provide:
    • Full justification including details of the terms and conditions and how these map onto the principles of net neutrality
    • public consultations maybe initiated on the specifics of any plan, before a regulator decision is made.
    • TRAI would need to check data tariff plans for regulatory principles/guidelines, including:
      • Non-Discriminatory
      • Transparency
      • Not Anti-competitive
      • Non-Predatory
      • Non-Ambiguous
      • Not Misleading

3. On Privacy: NASSCOM says that differential pricing should not become a tool that facilitates market dominance or enables anti-competitive behavior by either the telecom operator or the platform, via a direct or indirect benefit from leveraging the consumer data. “This is particularly important in the Indian context, wherein the absence of a privacy law, enables widespread abuse/ misuse of such information for commercial gain.”

4. Ways of improving Internet access: Companies can offer Free WiFi under their CSR mandate. Corporates can come together to bridge the digital divide through training, distribution of bandwidth amongst first time users etc. maybe considered, where neither content / service providers nor TSPs have a role to play. Suggested models

a. Free data access by telecom operators, Content and Service providers: without any stipulations. This could be done through coupons
b. Government offers free data: Such as free WiFi planned in Delhi.
c. Corporates can cover opex cost for offering free/ discounted data to the uninitiated, without any stipulations on usage, in public transport, in partnership with telecom operators. d. Time based models (e.g. price per minute varies between day and night or workday and weekend) – Subscribers are offered incentives, such as better QoS or discounts, when they use mobile data at specific times or locations when the network is typically underutilized.

Disclosure: I’m a co-founder of the Savetheinternet.in coalition and MediaNama has taken a strong position on Net Neutrality

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Written By

Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.



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