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Indian operators demand clarity on differentiated data pricing for intranet

India’s regulator TRAI is being urged to scrap a ban on differentiated data pricing by representative body for the country’s major operators.

Following a high-profile debate over net neutrality in India, disapproval of zero-rated services such as Facebook’s Free Basics and Bharti Airtel’s Airtel Zero led TRAI to impose the ban on differentiated prices in a bid to prevent this practice.

However, operators have objected to the ban on the grounds that the terms are too vague, particularly with regard to the pricing of services provided via CECNs (closed electronic communication networks), also known as the intranet.

The Cellular Operators Association of India has argued that data services can be priced differently when delivered through these channels, effectively providing a loophole for operators looking to offer zero-rated services. TRAI maintains that the rules on the matter are black-and-white.

Now, the COAI has requested that TRAI lift the ban, writing a letter to the regulator asking that it “review its decision of the CECN network and allow differential tariffs on the basis of content irrespective of whether such content is provided through the closed network or open internet”.

The COAI specifically asks the regulator to elaborate on two points: firstly, whether a content provider can share in advertising revenue with an operator if it is offering that operator’s subscribers exclusive content on a subsidised deal; and secondly, whether a content provider offering a subsidised subscription to an operator’s customers constitutes a CECN.

COAI’s overture follows a similar recent request for further information by Bharti Airtel. The market leader a few weeks ago informed the regulator that it was discussing a deal with an anonymous US-based content provider that would see the latter firm offering exclusive video content via intranet.

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