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TRAI keen to know if you want to access apps for free, and how

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) wants to know whether or not you would like to use apps/websites for free, and the ways to do it. But without fanning another net neutrality debate.

Aimed at helping small entrepreneurs and mobile commerce-based services, TRAI has introduced a new consultation paper on free data, seeking possible solutions to widen the reach of Internet and make digital services accessible pan India.

TRAI, the telecom watchdog, also wants to know whether such solutions should be regulated by it or be allowed to develop on their own.

The rules
The model should be open, transparent, and offer equal access to consumer services, all businesses and all users without allowing telecom service providers (such as Airtel, Vodafone and Reliance) or large companies (like Facebook and Google) play gatekeeper or a biased role.

What are the proposals?
To achieve this, TRAI has proposed creating an open telecom service provider (TSP) agnostic platform, for which it has suggested three models. The first is a reward-based model, wherein incentive is given to the users after they download a certain application or use a particular website. It could be in the form of a recharge or data packs offered by apps like Taskbucks and EarnTalktime or in the form of cashbacks, like the ones doled out by Paytm for paying electricity bills via its platform. However, to utilise these benefits, a use must have an active data pack.

The second model is ‘don’t charge’ or a toll free API, in which a user will not be billed for the data consumed. In this model, apps/services will remain accessible despite zero balance. This resembles the zero rating service which was rejected in February consultation paper. Here, the cost of providing data pack will be borne by the app/service provider.

In the third model, a platform owner measures the real time data consumption and the tariff applied to each individual user, and reimburses/recharges actual amount incurred by the user in the form of a recharge for data usage or for voice usage to the user.

What this means
In a country where privacy is not a right, allowing any regulator — governmental or private — to monitor the web and its usage is a risky manoeuvre. And should be avoided at any cost. TRAI should let the market decide which model works and which doesn’t without introducing new regulations.

An open platform
Stakeholders wanting to comment on the consultation papers can send e-mails to TRAI on broadbandtrai@gmail.com till June 6. Those wanting to counter the comments can do so till June 30.

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