After face-off with Facebook, watchdog says data pricing norms by January-end

New Delhi, Jan 21 (IANS) A day after the sparring match with social networking site Facebook over the issue of Free Basics came out in the open, India’s telecom regulator on Thursday said its norms on the issue of differential pricing of data will be firmed up by January-end.

“We will take into consideration all valuable comments on differential data pricing. We will come out with the regulation by the month-end,” said R.S Sharma, chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), after an open-house session with stakeholders here.

Crucial to the issue of net neutrality, differential pricing or zero-rating is a practice where Internet service providers do not take into account the content downloaded by subscribers from some platforms while computing their usage tariff.

Proponents of net neutrality call for a uniformity in such tariff. But those on the other side of the fence argue this may be impossible because service providers have to invest huge amounts of money on infrastructure and different bandwidths call for different level of investments.

In fact, the sparring match with Facebook was the result of a chunk of the 2.4 million respondents to watchdog’s consultation paper on net neutrality speaking about just one of its many aspects — saying they supported Free Basics.

A service from Facebook, Free Basics is an app that promises to make Internet accessible to more people by providing them a range of some basic services for free such as news, health, travel, jobs, sports, communication and other information.

“Majority of the comments received are template responses and many of which do not address the specific questions that were raised in the consultation paper,” the regulator had said in a statement on January 8, referring to the remarks on the consultation paper.

“In view of the fact that there is quite a large number of responses and also that many of these are repetitive template responses, no useful purpose would be served by publishing all such responses,” the regulator said, and shot a scathing letter to Facebook.

“Your urging has the flavour of reducing the meaningful consultative exercise designed to produce informed decisions in a transparent manner into a crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll,” the regulator’s letter said.

“Neither the spirit nor letter of a consultative process warrants such an interpretation which, if accepted, has dangerous ramifications for policy making in India. Equally of concern is your self-appointed spokesmanship on behalf of those who have sent responses to TRAI using your platform.”

Facebook responded saying it was only trying to cooperate with the regulator.

“When we reviewed your letter of January 7, 2016, we were alarmed by the discrepancy in the number of comments submitted. We promptly sought to understand the source of discrepancy,” Ankhi Das, Facebook’s director for public policy for India, South and Central Asia, said in the letter.

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