Is limited Internet access for hundreds of millions of people superior to unlimited Internet access, as enjoyed by a limited set of the population? Indian regulators say no, dealing a blow to Facebook’s Free Basics program and others like it.
In its ruling Monday, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) banned zero-rated Internet services, saying:
(1) No service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content. (2) No service provider shall enter into any arrangement, agreement or contract, by whatever name called, with any person, natural or legal, that has the effect of discriminatory tariffs for data services being offered or charged to the consumer on the basis of content.
There are exceptions, such as in the case of providing emergency services, or “at times of grave public emergency,” TRAI said in the ruling, which the agency said it would review in two years.
Violators, the agency said, will be fined an equivalent of about $735 a day, up to a maximum of about $73,000. The amount may be a pittance to Facebook, which was not specifically named in Monday’s ruling, but the decision is a major blow to the company that had expended time and money toward promoting Free Basics in India. The service offered Indians access to a few websites without using up the data plans on their cell phones.