Bharti Airtel has held its proposed launch of VoIP packs. The operator says the decision has been taken in the view of reports that the TRAI will be releasing a consultation paper on the issue.
The operator says in a statement: “In view of the news reports that a consultation paper will be issued shortly by TRAI on issues relating to services offered by OTT players including VOIP, we have decided not to implement our proposed launch of VoIP packs.
“We have no doubt that as a result of the consultation process a balanced outcome would emerge that would not only protect the interests of all stakeholders and viability of this important sector but would also encourage much needed investments in spectrum and roll out of data networks to fulfil the objective of digital India.”
Earlier, Airtel opened a new lead of controversy – which many called as an attempt to breach net neutrality – by announcing separate data charges for Internet calling. Amid wide criticism, Airtel backed its move stating it had heavily invested in setting up telecom infrastructure and that VoIP services in their current form are not tenable for us as a business.
Here’s the detailed statement the operator released last week:
“Over the last twenty years, we have invested over Rs. 140, 000 crores in rolling out telecommunications services in every nook and corner of the country. In addition, we have paid over Rs. 50, 000 crore in terms of government levies in just 5 years. Going forward, we are committed to rolling out data networks across the country. In order to ensure this, our business must be viable and sustainable. Our voice services that are enjoyed by every one of our customers provides us the capacity to continuously invest in and upgrade our networks on an ongoing basis. We, therefore, believe that VoIP services in their current form are not tenable for us as a business. As a result, we will charge separately for VoIP services.
However, in line with our philosophy of putting our customers above all else - we are committed to making VoIP services extremely affordable and attractive by ensuring adequate minutes for a very small charge on VoIP.
As a result, in line with the recent announcement of our VoIP (Voice over internet protocol) pack, Airtel would like to clarify the following:
Our Customers can enjoy a superior VoIP calling experience on Airtel’s network by choosing from a range of new VoIP specific data packs that will soon be launched. For prepaid users, the VoIP exclusive pack will be priced at Rs. 75 for 75MB with a validity of 28 days. This will allow customers to make between 200 and 250 minutes of calling. Similarly, affordable VoIP plans will soon be launched for postpaid customers. There would be no other charges in respective of VoIP calls.
The VoIP update is not applicable with immediate effect. This change will be implemented in a phased manner over the next few weeks. In all cases, our customers will proactively be informed about these VoIP charges in advance through the company’s standard communication channels like SMS, USSD pop-up, email etc.
Prepaid customers who have purchased data plans before 24th December 2014 are entitled to use all services opted-for till their packs are consumed or expire, following which, the new terms & conditions on VoIP usage will apply.”
Airtel’s decision has faced a lot of criticism though TRAI’s chairman Rahul Khullar hinted at going soft at the operator. He also stated the move wasn’t against net neutrality.
"Let's be clear on this. What the company plans to do is certainly not in conformity with net neutrality. But one cannot today say the move is illegal as there's no policy either by the government that net neutrality is our principle or a regulatory framework put in place by the regulator," Khullar reportedly told the Financial Express.