Recommendations on Encouraging Data usage in Rural Areas through Provisioning of Free Data. In February 2016 TRAI imposed a two year ban on differential pricing for data services, but it now acknowledges that free data can benefit the poor. In its latest decision, TRAI rejected three proposed models for free data and presents a new model in which “third party aggregators” create the market for free data. The aggregators may also be eligible to take advantage of India’s Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) to participate. Let’s applaud TRAI for recognizing the value of free data. Aggregation is a novel approach, but it is neither costless nor neutral. Moreover, the ruling creates a new problem of regulatory discrimination restricting how telecom service providers can participate in the market.
non-binding guidelines for implementing net neutrality in the EU also support this approach. While case-by-case assessment may be a workable solution for zero rating, it is not unproblematic. Allocating scarce regulatory resources and selecting the forum in which the analysis takes place is not straightforward. Given the dearth of academic literature on the topic, here are four questions to help regulators assess the economic merits of specific zero rated offers and to prioritize whether a given zero-rated offer warrants scrutiny.