Telcos and application makers will be able take advantage of the controversial exception to the new rules barring discriminatory pricing of data services, only if they don't offer the app on the internet, said a senior official of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
The official said that the moment an app was available on the internet, it would come under the purview of TRAI's last month order, which banned discriminatory pricing of data services.
The order had made an exception for data services offered over 'closed communication network', popularly called the intranet, but the official clarified that for this exemption to prevail, the app would have to be available only on the closed network and not on the internet.
The official's explanation may ease concerns over introduction of popular apps that are currently available over the internet, on closed user networks at discounted rates. But it appears to pave the way for telcos to develop and introduce dedicated apps for its customers at discounted rates on the intranet.
The regulator's position is that its order relates to discriminatory pricing of data services on the internet but does not extend to the intranet. "All content that is available on the internet falls under the new regulation, but any content that isn't on the web, wont be governed by the rule," said TRAI chairman R S Sharma last month.
Supporters of net neutrality want a more emphatic statement from the regulator ""I think the regulation of the telecom operator very clearly upholds prohibition of discriminatory data tariffs but if the regulator were to come out and clearly say this about the intranet apps, it will bring a lot more clarity," said Prasanth Sugathan of SFLC.in, a notfor-profit organisation for legal services working to protect civil liberties in the digital world.
Internet activists fear that the exemption granted to the closed group, could prompt telecom operators into offering certain content to their subscribers (a closed user group in this case) at subsidized rates and charge a higher tariff for similar apps.
Such a practice, the activists argued could in effect violate the ban order issued by the regulator as it could lead to creation of differential price layers in the market for the same content.