TRAI Insists On Free 100 MB Data For Rural Users; But Has Jio Changed The Whole Concept?

A year, after DoT made some recommendations, TRAI is still insisting on their initial plan of free 100 MB of data for rural users.


TRAI Push For Rural Internet

Last year in December, Telecom Regulatory Authority Of India or TRAI had recommended to Department of Telecom, that every rural user should be provided free 100 MB of data, per day.

A year, after DoT made some recommendations, TRAI is still insisting on their initial plan of free 100 MB of data for rural users, but at the same, they have admitted that Jio’s revolutionary data plans have removed the barrier for accessing Internet, and the whole concept of providing free data to rural users has changed.

But now, the focus of TRAI is on the quality of data, and how ISPs treat rural users vis-a-vis Internet accessibility and quality of service.

TRAI: We Want Free 100 MB For Rural Users; But Jio Is Game Changer

Last year, TRAI had suggested a model wherein ISPs and telecom users unite to provide free 100 MB of data to rural users.

At that time, TRAI had 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..”

After DoT raised some issues and concerns regarding the plan, TRAI has admitted that the free data makes less sense now, as telecom operators have reduced the price of data to a bare minimum, and accessibility of data is no more an issue as such.

Responding to DoT’s queries, TRAI recently said,

“However, the authority takes cognisance of the fact that after entry of a new player with focus on data services, the competition in the data market segment has become more intense and consequently, there has been a steep decline in data prices during the last one year..”

Hence, indirectly, TRAI has admitted that Jio has proven to be a leading force in increasing accessibility of Internet to rural population.

TRAI’s New Focus: Digital Literacy, Regional Content & Connectivity

Although the demand for free 100 MB of data for rural users is still being insisted by TRAI, the focus has now shifted to three main aspects: Digital literacy of rural users (after all, if they don’t know how to use it, what is the purpose?); Connectivity (ISPs and telcos must establish better connectivity for higher speed) and Regional Content (English may not be the optimal choice for them)

Besides, the issue of expenditure and budget is also blocking the process of smooth implementation of these ideas.

Here is the problem: For expanding rural connectivity, TRAI had asked DoT to use funds from Universal Services Obligation Fund, which DoT is not willing now.

As per DoT, Universal Services Obligation Fund has already been overstretched, as Rs 53,000 crore from this fund would be used for expanding broadband connectivity across India under BharatNet project.

Now, using the same funds for expanding mobile Internet usage in rural areas can prove to be a bit dicey.

DoT said,

“If implemented (rural mobile scheme), it may weaken the focus on telecom infrastructure projects, which are key priority for DoT..”

Right now, both TRAI and DoT are attempting to work out an aggregator based model, wherein private and Govt entities are equal shareholders for expanding rural mobile connectivity.

We will keep you updated as we receive more updates..

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