Telecom Regulatory Authority of India via notification dated February 8, 2016 made Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016 (2 of 2016). Keeping in view India’s large number of internet users and content producers, both of which are rising exponentially, the Authority has taken a view that prohibition of discriminatory tariff for data services is necessary to ensure that service providers continue to fulfill their obligations in keeping the internet open and non-discriminatory.

Regulation 3 of the said Regulations deals with Prohibition of discriminatory tariffs. The provision states that No service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content. Also, 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. Provided that this regulation shall not apply to tariffs for data services over closed electronic communications networks, unless such tariffs are offered or charged by the service provider for the purpose of evading the prohibition in this regulation. Regulation 4 deals with exemption for certain content stating that Notwithstanding anything contained in regulation 3, a service provider may reduce tariff for accessing or providing emergency services, or at times of grave public emergency. Provided that such tariff shall be reported to the Authority within seven working days from the date of implementation of the reduced tariff and the decision of the Authority as to whether such reduced tariff qualifies under this regulation shall be final and binding. Rule 5 deals with the penalty in case of contravention of the Regulations i.e. an amount of rupees fifty thousand for each day of contravention, subject to a maximum of rupees fifty lakh.

The Explanatory Memorandum of Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016 further states that the Regulations will come into force on the date of their publication in the Official Gazette. Once the Regulation comes into effect, no new launches of prohibited packs, plans or vouchers shall be permitted. Presently, different types of vouchers as specified in TCPR, 2012 are offered to pre-paid consumers.  In addition, data tariffs are offered to post-paid consumers either as part of a plan or by way of add-on packs. The Authority is aware that there would be some such packs, plans and vouchers already subscribed and paid for by the consumer, the validity of which is specified and at present unexpired. The rationale for the savings provided in the regulations is to protect consumers who have spent money and bought these offerings. It is clarified that no new offerings of this nature shall come within the purview of such savings. Further, no plan, pack or voucher already subscribed by a pre-paid or post-paid consumer providing differential data tariff based on content, shall be in operation beyond a period of six months from the date of these regulations coming into effect. This provision has been made in the light of the tariff protection available to the existing consumers as per ITO.

-Telecom Regulatory Authority of India

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