To accelerate the drive of forming a cashless economy, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has recommended that a reasonable quantity of free mobile internet should be given each month to the rural subscribers. This scheme could be financed from the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).
TRAI said that this effort will bridge the affordability gap for rural subscribers and it will support the government’s vision towards the cashless economy by motivating digital means. The authority further recommends that a reasonable sum of 100MB data per month should be provided to the rural subscribers under this scheme for free.
The TRAI has proposed that the scheme should be funded from the USOF. The Department of Telecommunication (DoT) imposes a tax to the telecom operators under the USOF. This is the Universal Access Levy, which helps in increasing telecom connectivity and form infrastructure across the rural and remote areas of the country.
The scheme for the free data for smartphone users have to be the telecom operator agnostic and it must not include any deal between the telecom service provider (TSP) and the content provider or aggregator. The scheme should not infringe the regulation mentioned under ‘The Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations’ on the free mobile internet services. In February, TRAI has barred the controversial programs such as Airtel Zero and Facebook’s Free Basics which had offered differential pricing on the Internet. Furthermore, the authority also released a consultation paper on the free data services in May.
The TRAI has advised that the aggregators which will provide the free data services will require registering with the DoT and the company should be registered under the Indian Companies Act, 1956. “The validity of registration shall be five years. The registrant shall not either directly or indirectly, assign or transfer the Registration in any manner whatsoever to a third party either in whole or in part,” the regulator said.