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Indian Telecom Regulator Steps Up For Net Neutrality, Blocks Special 4G Packs From Vodafone, Airtel

© AFP 2021 / INDRANIL MUKHERJEEA customer selects his number of Reliance Jio Infocomm 4G mobile services in Mumbai on September 6, 2016
A customer selects his number of Reliance Jio Infocomm 4G mobile services in Mumbai on September 6, 2016 - Sputnik International
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New Delhi (Sputnik): In July 2018, India favoured net neutrality rules in the country, strictly instructing internet service providers to refrain from indulging in any form of data discrimination. Net neutrality as a principle directs telecom and internet providers to treat all web-communications equally regardless of users or content.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), over the weekend, blocked special high speed internet offerings provided by Indian telcos Airtel and Vodafone Idea on the grounds of discrimination with usual plan users and violation of net neutrality norms.

On 6 July, Airtel with over 283 million users in India, deployed a “preferential 4G plan” for its “platinum customers” who pay INR 499 ($6) and above per month for post-paid services. The plan guaranteed boosted 4G internet speeds for high paying customers.

In November 2019, British telecom Vodafone, which merged with Indian telco Idea, also launched a special “RedX” plan for customers who paid INR 999 ($13) and above for its monthly services. With the plan, the Vodafone Idea group (over 325 million users in India), also offered increased 4G speeds.

However, TRAI has stepped up for net neutrality and decided to bar these special plans being offered by telecom companies.

“It is in violation of quality of service norms. It short changes existing customers and it is also not clear what the new customers are being offered as the parameters are not quantifiable", the Indian media reported on Monday, citing anonymous TRAI officials.

TRAI’s decision has been well received by netizens who are thanking the statutory body from saving them from getting “looted” by telecom operators.

​Responding to media queries, Airtel said it was merely another effort on their end to keep the “bar rising” for its customers, while Vodafone Idea kept mum.

The debate on network neutrality in India gained public attention back in December 2014 after Airtel levied additional charges for making voice calls from its network via apps like WhatsApp and Skype. Later, TRAI passed the "Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016", prohibiting telecom service providers from levying discriminatory rates for data and in 2018, rules favouring net neutrality came into effect in India. 

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