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Government turns down TRAI’s proposal to offer free internet to poor

PW Bureau

Telecom commission did not find value in the proposal laid out by TRAI, given the country’s already-low mobile tariffs and strong reach of internet across subscribers

New Delhi: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) recommendations to provide free internet to the underprivileged has been rejected by the government. The telecom commission (TC), the top decision-making body on telecom matters, disagreed with the regulator’s proposal. The TC, an inter-ministerial body, did not find value in the proposal laid out by TRAI, given the already-low mobile tariffs in India and strong reach of internet across subscribers.

To prevent any discrimination in internet access in India, Trai had made a pitch in 2016 for offering free data to those living in remote and rural areas, submitting its recommendations to the Department of Telecom (DoT).

TRAI proposed 100 MB free data each month

In its recommendation, the regulator had planned to offer 100 MB of free data each month, saying the Universal Service Fund (USOF), created to spread the telecom services in remote areas, could fund the proposal. TRAI also recommended a model where 'data aggregators' could, in a non-discriminatory manner, provide the free data through telco-agnostic schemes.

The high-powered body did not support the idea of setting up data aggregators, Aruna Sundararajan, TC chairperson and secretary of the telecom ministry, said. "We do not want a set-up where aggregators would need to be registered or licensed out, and thereafter monitored. The TC felt that we do not need these kinds of data intermediaries operating in the market."

Tariffs already lowest in the world

According to TC, because data and voice tariffs in the country are the lowest in the world, there is "no need to incentivise them further" to boost their growth.