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Neutrality wins

Online activists, who had extensively campaigned for net neutrality, are over the moon. On Monday, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) ruled that no internet service provider shall offer or charge a discriminatory tariff for data services on the basis of content. Any telecom company that is found breaking the rules will be fined Rs 50,000 a day. In its ruling, TRAI has also said that these telecom companies are not permitted to enter into any contract or arrangement that promotes discriminatory pricing of internet data. However, TRAI did state that these companies can offer their own content and generic emergency services at lower prices. The regulatory authority’s findings were based on two consultation papers it had issued to the public, asking for comments specifically on differential pricing.  “Based on the responses received and the internal deliberations, the Authority has issued these Regulations. While formulating the Regulations, the Authority has largely been guided by the principles of Net Neutrality seeking to ensure that consumers get unhindered and non-discriminatory access to the internet. These Regulations intend to make data tariffs for access to the internet to be content agnostic,” the regulatory authority said in its report on Monday. Suffice to say TRAI’s ruling has come as a major blow to Facebook’s Free Basics project—something which CEO Mark Zuckerberg had extensively promoted. The aim of Free Basics, which was previously called Internet.org, was to provide free or subsidised internet plans to its customers. To fulfill its aims, Facebook collaborated with the Indian corporate behemoth Reliance Communications. To the uninitiated, net neutrality is the principle by which internet service providers cannot discriminate on the basis of origin or type of traffic when it comes to delivery to end-users who effectively pay for internet access. In other words, a service provider i.e. a telecom company cannot discriminate, in terms of price or speed, between traffic from website A and website B. This egalitarian stance is what makes the internet neutral and special. Under these circumstances, it is fair to suggest that TRAI’s ruling has come as a major relief to the Indian consumer.
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