TRAI Pitches For Free Rural Internet, Removal Of Convenience Fees For Digital Payments


Free Internet Rural Areas

Telecom Authority Of India has finally jumped into the ongoing debate for a better cashless society in India; and they have made two strong suggestions which should be taken seriously by Govt. of India.

While free rural Internet can boost usage of digital services, their suggestion for removing convenience fees for digital transactions will mean more participation into the campaign for making India cashless.

But, will Govt. listen to these suggestions?

Free ‘Reasonable’ Rural Internet?

In one of the strongest ever pitch for promoting cashless economy, TRAI has recommended that a fixed amount of ‘reasonable’ Internet should be provided to every citizen residing in rural areas.

This reasonable amount of data suggested by TRAI is 100 MB, per month, per user.

In a statement issued yesterday, TRAI said, “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 100 MB per month may be made available to rural subscribers for free..”

Interestingly, TRAI has made three very valid points while suggesting this initiative:

– This free Internet must be provided in partnership with local ISPs, with Govt. subsidies supporting the initiative. Hence, all technical and after-sale support has to be provided by the concerned ISP.

– The subsidies allocated should be derived and funded from government’s Universal Service Obligatory Fund (USOF), which promotes penetration of telecom and Internet services in the country. Under the USOF, TRAI had suggested discounted rural billing for telecom services, way back in 2012.

– And, the most interesting part: There should be no partnership between the ISP and any content provider (example Facebook, Google); and the Internet access should meet all guidelines prescribed and written in the “The Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations,” which notified on 8th February, 2016 to protect Net Neutrality in India. Hence, plans like Facebook Basic or Airtel Zero is very smartly filtered out here.

Making this pointer clear, TRAI said, “The authority strongly reaffirms that allowing TSPs, content providers or ISPs to strike agreements to differentially price data based on content would distort the market and is therefore not permitted.”

We support TRAI on this suggestion to provide non-discriminatory, free Internet for rural users in India. It can become one of the trigger points for advancing the cashless movement in the country.

Remove Convenience Fees From Digital Payments

Meanwhile, during a function by Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), TRAI Chairman RS Sharma has strongly pitched for removing any convenience fees charged on digital payments.

This move will equate cash with cashless payments, thereby creating a level playing field for the digital economy.

Sharma said, “It is vital to eliminate convenience charge by the banks to create a well-operational and sustainable digital and cashless economy..”

We had recently reported that Govt. has waived off service tax on all digital payments which are below Rs 2000.

As per the TRAI Chairman, the trinity of Aadhaar Card-Mobile-Jan Dhan accounts has included a massive userbase of 1.1 billion Indians into the cashless mode; and now, all we need is to equate cash payments with cashless payments to bring in a huge transformation in the country.

It would be interesting to observe how Govt. of India responds to these valid suggestions made by TRAI, in order to promote cashless economy in the country. We will keep you updated as we get more details on this story.

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