Telecom operators may go to court over TRAI's discriminatory pricing ban

COAI representatives told the media that they are waiting for the outcome of two live consultation papers before exploring legal options.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is engaged in a bitter battle with industry body Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI). The courts came to the rescue of COAI by overruling the call drop penalty TRAI had imposed on telecom service providers. However, TRAI did not let the court ruling stop it, it went ahead and asked for powers to impose penalties on cellular operators over quality of service issues.

In February this year, TRAI had banned discriminatory pricing schemes offered by telecom operators over net neutrality concerns. Now, the COAI are looking the legal options to allow the operators to offer differential pricing on content, applications and services. COAI representatives told the Economic Times that they are waiting for the outcome of two live consultation papers before taking the next step.

The two papers in question are a Pre-Consultation Paper on Net Neutrality and a Consultation Paper on Free Data. The industry is waiting for the results of these consultation papers to better understand the impact the results will have on their operations., a hacktivism campaign meant to spam the TRAI with net neutrality responses, has a few suggestions for fair schemes that do not impact net neutrality. These include pricing tiers where slower speed connections are free, compensation in the form of data to consumers for watching advertisements and freemium subscriptions where data is free initially.

While discriminatory pricing schemes are banned, there is a provision that allows for these kinds of schemes in something the TRAI calls Closed Electronic Communication Networks. The terminology makes it sound like an intranet, but no one except perhaps TRAI knows exactly what the CECN stands for. COAI and other industry bodies have asked for clarification, but TRAI fears that they will have to keep clarifying repeatedly, and has refrained from clarifying so far. CECN is scary to the COAI because they do not know what kind of technologies and infrastructure they can invest in, without knowing for sure what is and what is not allowed under the new TRAI regulations. CECN is scary for consumers as well, as users fear the telecom service providers might find a way to exploit the CECN loophole to introduce schemes based on discriminatory pricing.

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