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Differentially pricing the web - (09 Dec 2015)

Media and Communication

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has released a paper on the merits (and demerits) of TRAI keeps a vigil not only on internet standards, advertising and service provision by telecom operators, but also watches the tariff landscape. Its purpose: to keep tariffs reasonable, transparent, competitive and non-discriminatory. With regard to this, non-discrimination, has TRAI invited suggestions and comments by 30 December 2015. Differential tariffs, an embodiment of the ‘net neutrality’ debate, have a recent birth; as internet use, especially on mobile devices, has gone from cursory to pervasive, so have business models had to adapt. Acknowledging the soaring demand of mobile data services, it provides an insight into the benefits and burdens of having differential tariff for certain parts of the internet; how such may be imposed on consumers; and how it will manifest on those parts of the internet that are not ‘discounted’. As TRAI notes, differential pricing is not an issue anew, with it dating back to inter- and intra- network calls and text messages.

Net neutrality – or in practical effect, access to some websites being ‘free’ or ‘not charged to the included data plan’ – has raised concerns over the strong-arming of content and internet traffic. The worry? Put very simply, between the three options: a) pay nothing, get nothing; b) pay nothing, get access to some things; and c) pay for everything, people might choose option (b). How differentiation is achieved depends on a variety of factors, but internet users will likely encounter them as discounted or free access to some websites and equal or higher charges for others; and data priority, with internet traffic to participating websites given higher priority than to others. The debate, similar to ‘walmart worries’, is likened to the big conglomerate muscling out the next door blogger. Or is seen as a new dawn on credible, manageable organisations getting primacy over unchecked content. Choose your pitchfork. Differential Pricing for Data Services


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