The government has shot down a proposal to offer free data to the poor with telecom commission (TC), the top decision-making body on telecom matters, refusing to agree to a recommendation to this effect made by regulator TRAI.
The TC, which is an inter-ministerial body, did not find merit in TRAI’s proposal in view of the already-low mobile tariffs across the country, and also because of the strong penetration of internet across subscribers
In 2016, TRAI had made a pitch for providing free data to people in remote and rural areas and had later submitted suggestions to this effect to the Department of Telecom (DoT). The regulator had suggested giving out 100 MB of free data every month and had said that the move could be funded by the Universal Service Fund (USOF) that has been created to spread the telecom services in remote areas. Also, Trai had suggested a model where ‘data
aggregators’ could offer free data through telco-agnostic schemes in a non-discriminatory manner.
Aruna Sundararajan, TC chairperson and also the secretary of the telecom ministry, said that the high-powered body did not support the idea of setting up data aggregators. “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.”
The TC also felt that data and voice tariffs in India are currently the lowest in the world, and thus there is “no need to incentivize them further” to push their growth.
It is understood that the TC feels that further expansion of the internet can be made through the Bharat Net programme that aims to connect over 1 lakh villages with high-speed optic fiber―Times Of India