Two industry bodies representing several major national and international corporations said that they are opposed to a blanket enablement of differential pricing of data services, in response to a telecom regulator paper seeking comment on the practice. One of them, however, said that there may be certain situations that warrant allowing discounted tariffs for some online services.
“The differential pricing issue is important, because it has implications for net neutrality,” R Chandrashekhar, president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) president told ET. “Differential pricing as a blanket enablement is out of question. It should not be done because it will completely erode net neutrality,” he added.
Nasscom member companies include technology services companies such as Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys and Wipro.
The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), which includes members such as Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, said it was opposed to differential pricing, as it violates net neutrality.
“In addition to being against net neutrality, the differential pricing models suggested by Trai prima facie also violate the regulator’s own stated principles of intervening in pricing,” said Subho Ray, the president of IAMAI.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had asked for suggestions on differential pricing of data services in a consultation paper it released on December 9. In the paper, it describes differential tariff plans as those offered by telecom companies at “zero or discounted tariffs to certain contents of certain websites/applications/platforms.”
While both associations opposed blanket differential pricing plans, Nasscom said that there was a case for considering such plans in special cases. “However, we have recognised that there may be a need for differential pricing in certain contexts. For example emergency services,” Chandrashekhar said.
IAMAI also counts Facebook as a member, which has been at the centre of the storm brewing around net neutrality, and has been slammed for driving a campaign supporting its “Free Basics” programme, which is seen as violating net neutrality.
Trai has said that the “objective of offering such schemes is claimed to be the desire of various service providers/content providers or platform providers to enable people of this country especially the poor to access certain content on the internet free of charge”.
Opponents of zero-rated services have argued that a service such as Free Basics will create a “walled garden” by providing preferential access to the internet. Free Basics, in partnership with a telecom, seeks to guide traffic to only those content providers or apps who have subscribed to become a part of it – at the expense of others.
“IAMAI submits that any pricing mechanism that allows paid or unpaid prioritisation or other discriminatory practices will seriously limit competition, throttle innovation and fundamentally lead to fragmentation of the internet. Such measures should not be allowed in any case,” IAMAI said in its submission.
Neither Nasscom, nor IAMAI mentioned Free Basics in their submissions to the regulator.