To support a less-cash economy, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on Monday recommended that a "reasonable" amount of free data access should be provided to rural subscribers on a monthly basis and the scheme could be funded from the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).
"In order to bridge the affordability gap for the persons residing in rural areas and to support government's efforts towards cashless economy by incentivising digital means, the Authority recommends that a scheme under which a reasonable amount of data, say 100Mb per month, may be made available to rural subscribers for free," Trai said.
Under USOF, the government charges a cess, or Universal Access Levy, from telecom licencees to fund setting up of telecom infrastructure in all uncovered rural and remote areas of the country.
Trai recommended that to increase participation of other entities for incentivising free data, there is a need to introduce a third party (aggregator) to facilitate schemes which are telecom operator agnostic and non-discriminatory in their implementation.
It has recommended that scheme for free data must be telecom-operator agnostic and must not involve any arrangement between the TSP (telecom service provider) and the aggregator / content provider. It should not be designed to circumvent its regulation on free mobile internet services as mentioned under 'The Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations'.
Trai in February barred differential pricing for internet, which ended the services of platforms like Facebook's Free Basics and Airtel Zero. The regulator in May also released a consultation paper on free data services.
The regulator has recommended that the aggregators providing free data service will need to register with the Department of Telecom and it should be a company registered under 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," Trai said.