The telecom regulator is unlikely to approve Bharti Airtel's proposal to offer content exclusively to a closed group of users if it is already available on the internet, saying discriminatory data pricing isn't allowed.
Separately, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) will float a consultation paper on whether over-the-top (OTT) communication companies such as Skype and WhatsApp should be regulated on par with telecom operators.
Airtel had written to Trai last week, seeking clarification on its plan to exclusively offer its customers certain video content through a proposed tieup with a global provider.
Three months ago, telecom industry associations had sought clarity over Trai's regulation banning discriminatory pricing of data to access content on the internet, but allowing it over closed electronic communications networks.
"As for Airtel's proposal, the regulation prohibiting discriminatory tariffs for data services is amply clear. As long as the video content that they wish to provide over their closed communication network at any tariff isn't available on the internet at another tariff, we think it is perfectly in accordance with the regulation," a senior Trai official said.
The Cellular Operators Association of India and the Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India had asked the regulator to clarify the concept and scope of a closed communication network and how it intends to operationalise it.
Airtel, the country's No. 1 telco, told Trai that it had been approached by a big global content provider with videos to be provided on an exclusive basis over its closed networks. "Such exclusive content would be offered in India to Airtel's customers only," the company said in a letter to Trai Secretary Sudhir Gupta.
Airtel said that while the arrangement would comply with regulations, some stakeholders may view it as a violation of net neutrality, which states that internet service providers should treat all traffic on their networks equally.
The regulator barred discriminatory pricing of data services in February, effectively prohibiting controversial plans such as Facebook's Free Basics and Airtel Zero and setting a maximum penalty of Rs 50 lakh for violators.
Trai Chairman Ram Sewak Sharma had previously said that the new regulation would cover all content available on internet and that any content that isn't on the web won't be governed by the rule.
Meanwhile, Trai officials said the regulator would soon start seeking public opinion on whether OTT players such as Skype, WhatsApp and Viber need to be regulated in the same way as telcos.
A DoT committee on net neutrality last year proposed bringing such services on par with telecom service providers.