TRAI wants FREE DATA for everyone, without ‘gatekeeping’ by telcos

India’s telecom regulator has suggested that every rural citizen should be given 100 MB or so per month on a free basis to help the spread of digital revolution in the country. It has also suggested allowing ‘third party aggregators’ like Facebook to offer free data, but only if they can keep telecom companies totally out of such efforts.

Both suggestions are aimed at ensuring that non-telecom companies who want to offer free data can do so, while preventing telecom operators from acting as gate keepers who decide what their customers should be watch or read online.


The issue of third party aggregators, zero rating and net neutality had become a big point of controversy when Flipkart and a handful of other companies tried to offer access to their websites and apps free by paying money to telecom providers.

Similar, Facebook’s Free Basics — which was a third party content aggregator — also fell foul of net neutrality activists due to the social network’s attempts to play gatekeeper to content accessed by subscribers under the program.

The telecom regulator had, at the time of its earlier ruling on ‘differential pricing’
of data access, said it will relook at the issue of providing alternatives to Free Basics.

Under the new rules, TRAI sought to welcome third party aggregators with one key condition: These ‘walled garden’ providers cannot make any kind of deal or arrangement with telecom companies.

In other words, the model that Facebook had assumed — where it was given free data access by the telecom provider — will not be allowed.

“Scheme for free data must be telecom service provider-agnostic, must not involve any arrangement between the TSP and the aggregator/content provider.”

In other words, you can have a Free Basics type of a walled garden, but since you cannot have any arrangement with the telecom provider, and therefore you cannot give the service free.

Yet TRAI also says “scheme for free data”, implying that the data is free.

It has left the method of implementation to the participants, but has suggested two possible models.

One is the ‘reward model’, where an aggregator could credit free data to a user’s account via the electronic or physical form.

“A data reward could be given for download of an app or for visiting a particular website, e.g. submission in a survey, payment of bills through specified aggregators, registration with KYC, and even on purchase of a packet of biscuits through coupons. This platform could
also be integrated with mobile advertising ecosystems (like banner ads) as well as SMS based communication, enabling businesses to reach out to their target consumers.

“The Reward model could also allow content providers and app publishers to reward their users with recharge packs to be used for unrestricted mobile data,” it said.

The second model is Direct Money Transfer whereby the mobile users are reimbursed the actual cost of data by the apps, websites and brands, into their respective mobile accounts.