Bharti Airtel, India’s largest carrier by subscribers has just made a controversial change in its data policy. According to the updated terms and conditions on Airtel’s website, the carrier plans to start charging customers extra for VoIP calls.
Here’s the clause from the new terms and conditions:
All Internet/data packs or plans (through which customer can avail discounted rate) shall only be valid for internet browsing and will exclude VoIP (Both incoming/ Outgoing). VoIP over data connectivity would be charged at standard data rates of 4p / 10 KB (3G service) and 10p / 10 KB (2G service).
This means that Airtel customers making or receiving VoIP calls using apps like Skype, Viber etc. will be charged extra, and it won’t be deducted from the monthly allowance. It is also strange that the carrier is charging 2.5 times more for 2G service.
Airtel has issued the following statement to Times of India:
We have made some revisions in the composition of our data packs, and will offer VoIP (Voice over internet protocol) connectivity through an independent pack that will be launched shortly. Our customers can continue enjoying voice calls over data connectivity by opting for this VoIP pack, or simply use VoIP services on pay-as-you-go basis.
Airtel spokesperson also told Reuters that the charges will be only applicable to pre-paid customers. Airtel doesn’t plan to charge differently for video calls over VoIP. Customers will get a six months cooling off period before the new policy kicks in.
VoIP services like Skype that allow users to make free calls to other Skype users over the internet, and very cheap international calls to mobile phones or landlines, have been disruptive for the phone business of telecom operators. The loss in revenues has been estimated to be in billions of dollars. But this has been compensated by the surge in revenues from wireless data traffic.
The move is clearly against the spirit of anti-neutrality, as the basic premise of net neutrality is that all traffic on the internet should be treated the same. It also sets a worrying precedent, as other carriers in India could also follow suit. It also goes without saying that carriers in other parts of the world will also be watching this with interest. According to Times of India, telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said that the Indian government will be looking into Airtel’s plan to charge customers for internet calls.
Messaging apps like WhatsApp have had a similar impact on carriers’ highly lucrative text messaging business, so if the Indian Government lets Airtel off the hook, I won’t be surprised if they exclude messaging apps, and start charging for the data used by them.