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TRAI should not allow zero-rating of websites because of COVID-19

By Aroon Deep and Nikhil Pahwa In a letter on March 21, the Cellular Operators Association of India requested TRAI to allow telcos to zero-rate websites related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter was first reported by the Economic Times, which said that a copy of the letter was also sent to the Department of Telecommunications. MediaNama has reached out to TRAI for comment. In 2016, the telecom regulator prohibited discriminatory pricing of data*, a decision that telcos and the COAI have even recently demanded be reversed. This week, the COAI succeeded in pressing the vast majority of big streaming services in India to lower their video quality, to address network load. The current letter represents a much more direct test of Net Neutrality principles. It requests that access to a list of websites — some of them private, and one of them not even working as this story is written — not be charged. MediaNama's take (Nikhil Pahwa adds) Is this even necessary? According to the latest data from TRAI, over 642 million Indians have a broadband connection, mostly mobile, consuming almost 10GB per month. The cost of internet access per GB is around ₹7. A relatively heavy website will be, let's say, 50MB to access. Thus, it will cost a user less than ₹0.35 to access that site: around ₹0.0068 per MB. Government websites, named in the letter, which use less data, would probably cost around ₹0.003 to use.Things have changed from the days of the Net Neutrality…

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

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