The aggregator will be allowed to strike alliances with telecom services providers and content companies. However, the alliance between the aggregator and the telecom service provider will not be allowed to be exclusive
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has proposed an 'aggregator model' and 100 MBs of free data for rural users as part of the broader plan to push Digital India.
The aggregator will be allowed to strike alliances with telecom services providers and content companies. However, the alliance between the aggregator and the telecom service provider will not be allowed to be exclusive. Needless to say, there won't be any such rule for partnership between the aggregator and the content site.
Anyone accessing content through the aggregator could enjoy benefits of free data. The free data model works in various ways including the telecom service provider not charging the user for accessing the data from a particular web site or the content host returning some data – just like cash back – to the user in his data pack.
TRAI believes aggregators will be useful in providing non-discriminatory free data to users. This is based on the rationale that the use of third-party aggregators would allow the market to benefit from transparency and consistency of pricing, encouraging small or start-up content providers and Internet service providers, to engage with the consumers for providing free data. It would also help to ensure that the benefits of free data are not restricted to the customers of just one network.
Under the model proposed by the regulator, an aggregator will be a third party that will have to register with the department of telecommunications. This registration will be valid for 5 years and won’t be transferable.
TRAI has also proposed giving rural users 100 MBs monthly free data. The regulator has suggested that Universal Services Obligation Fund, a corpus lying with the DoT, could be used for subsidising mobile operators to propagate use of free data in rural users.
According to TRAI data, the number of rural smartphone users are likely to be in the range of 50 million-60 million.
"This scheme will provide free data benefits to these smart phone subscribers in rural areas. This would translate into to a cost of approximately Rs. 600 Crore to provide 100 MB of free data to 50 million users for a period of one year. However, considering the sharp decline in expected data prices, this scheme could be implemented at an even lower cost," TRAI said in its recommendations.
The regulator decided to act and deal with the subject of free data after it noticed that some service providers were offering differential data tariff with free or discounted tariffs to certain contents of certain websites/applications/platforms.
Free data is a controversial topic that is part of the umbrella of net neutrality. It basically deals with access of consumers to data and content on the Net without any prejudice or compromise on quality and speed of access.
The debate on free data originated in India more than a year ago when Facebook launched its Free Basics programme and Reliance Communications Ltd joined that platform. Under Free Basics, users could access certain web sites without incurring data charges. Critics of the scheme alleged that it put web sites that were not part of the platform at a disadvantage.
The recommendations issued today are “light touch” in nature, leaving it to the recommendation on net neutrality -- the regulator is holding a separate consultation process for that – to deal with the more controversial aspects.