VoIP services have been a bone of contention for telecom operators for a long time and Bharti Airtel’s decision to charge pre-paid customers for using VoIP services has once again stoked the flames when it comes to the net neutrality debate.
Airtel’s latest announcement comes at a time when discussions around net neutrality, the belief that there should be not any differentiation on the internet on the basis of content, services, platform or mode of communication, has been raging the world over.
According to Airtel’s website, data plans on 3G and 2G will include only web browsing and not extend to VoIP calls. These will be charged as per standard data rates, viz., 4p / 10 KB (3G service) and 10p / 10 KB (2G service). It also seems that this only applies to pre-paid customers. The company has said that a separate pack will be announced for customers wanting to use VoIP services.
It is no secret that Over-The-Top (OTT) service providers like Viber, WhatsApp, Skype, Line, Hike, etc. have seriously dented revenues of telecom operators. Mobile IM is replacing SMS; VoIP calls doing the same with phone calls to an extent. Telecom operators have tried earlier to fight back but TRAI had squashed efforts to charge OTT operators like the aforementioned for providing their services.
It remains to be seen how the telecom ministry reacts to Airtel’s plans. According to media reports, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said that the ministry will look into the matter before coming out with a structured response.