After Indian mobile data service provider Airtel announced plans to introduce data charges for VoIP usage, it received a rash of criticism from customers and open web advocates alike.
With 192.22 million users (as of August 2013), Airtel is India's largest mobile telephony provider and Asia-Pacific's second largest mobile operator. Although plans are now on hold due to regulatory restrictions, advocates worry that the company may yet find a way impose the fee increase.
On December 26, company proposed to raise costs for mobile phone users who rely on services like WhatsApp, Skype, and Viber to communicate with their contacts, requiring them to pay Rs.0.04/10KB (0.063 USD, based on current conversion rate) for 3G and Rs. 0.10/10KB (0.158 USD) for 2G service where a local or national call will cost one third of this amount or less.
The charges would also threaten the principle of net neutrality, under which networks are designed to ensure that Internet and online service providers, along with the government, treat all data on the Internet equally. In other words, irrespective of the kind of data usage, network, user, platform, type of device, or mode of communication, all data will be carried through the network using the same system and under the same cost scheme.
The #BoycottAirtel hash tag gained traction on social media, and advocates have launched a website, Netneutrality.in, to educate people about net neutrality, circulate news about the issue, and support online campaign efforts with sample tweets and WhatsApp posts for sharing among followers and friends.
If you pay a fixed amount for internet data pack, Airtel will charge you extra for internet calls on Skype, Viber or any free calling app. How much? 4 paise for every 10 Kilo Bytes on 3G and 10 paise for every 10 Kilo Bytes on 2G.
The new plan to charge Rs. 75 for 75 MB of data usage over VoIP calls was heavily criticized on social media:
So let me get this straight. Airtel is worried about people using a mere 75 MB out of their data allowance? WTF? #BoycottAirtel
— Madhu Menon (@madmanweb) December 26, 2014
If you dont agree with Airtel proposing to charge extra for VoIP and breaking Net Neutrality. RT this with hashtag #boycottairtel
— Vijay Anand (@vijayanands) December 26, 2014
In protest of Airtel India's violation of net neutrality principles, I disabled all data packs in my mobile number .
I am not using skype or viber usually . My usual video requirements arechatb.org and Google hangout. But a carrier breaking net neutrality is a very serious development . Raise your voice against this .
Read More about Airtel Breaking Net Neutrality here http://netneutrality.in/
I would like to port to some other services without gate keeping after a few weeks If airtel continues same path.
- Anivar Joshina (on Facebook)
In an op-ed, Indian online news portal Niti Central's CEO Shashi Shekhar said the move could put Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's “Digital India” initiative in jeopardy.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Vision of a Digital India will be in jeopardy unless the larger mess in Telecom is fixed urgently on priority and “Net Neutrality” does not make that priority list.
- Shashi Shekhar, CEO, Niti Central
— Gautam John (@gkjohn) December 26, 2014
Airtel has not released any further response on the issue of net neutrality since their initial announcement, which read as follows:
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).
- Published on Telecomtalk.info
Reacting to the public outcry against Airtel, India's Union Minister of Communications Ravi Shankar Prasad pledged to look into matter. According to news portal First Post, telecom operators voiced opposition to “over-the-top” VoIP services like WhatsApp, Skype, and Viber for some time, but the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has thus far stood in the way of a price increase.
Airtel has started on plans to charge OTT users particularly using VOIP services like viber and skype. TRAI had earlier this year rejected such demands from Indian operators. Even after this Airtel has gone ahead and kickstarted this practice.
- Sandip Pillai (on Change.org)
Airtel has pushed for a policy level change to legitimize exceptional data charges and many other over-the-top services. But these were declined by TRAI who contended that Airtel's plans were “illegal and violation of net neutrality,” forcing Airtel to drop the plan — for now.
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 fulfill the objective of digital India.
- Report on MediaNama by Nikhil Pahwa