Airtel rolls back plan to charge data subscribers more for VoIP calls

Telecom services firm Bharti Airtel has rolled back its plans to charge extra more from its internet service subscribers for making VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) calls. This comes within days of its proposed plan to charge more for the VoIP, which competes with its core call services, amid widespread social media criticism. There are also reports of telecom regulator looking to bring out a consultation paper to look at the issue which is said to breach net neutrality.

In a statement issued by the operator on Monday morning, it said that the decision has been taken following news reports that a consultation paper will be issued shortly by the telecom regulator TRAI on the issue.

The telco had last week announced it would charge VoIP calls at 4p/10KB on 3G, and 10p/10KB on 2G. What this basically meant was that even if you had an active 2G/3G internet data pack, you still needed need to shell out a little extra for VoIP calls.

VoIP calls include all the calls users make via services like Skype, Viber, Line and even Google Hangouts. This came as a big blow for users who have become accustomed to using such services to connect with their friends and family living abroad (and in India).

The move by Airtel received huge criticisms from users who took the social networking route to vent their anger against the operator.

It had earlier defended its move saying that its customers can enjoy a superior VoIP calling experience by choosing from a range of new VoIP specific data packs that will soon be launched. It had also argued that the VoIP update is not applicable with immediate effect.

Airtel decision meanwhile comes after TRAI, chairman Rahul Khullar partially supported the telco and said it cannot be faulted for charging separately as there was no set rule or any frame work which stated that net neutrality should be maintained.

“If the telecom players fall under a set of rules, then should not the OTT (over the top) be also brought under some kind of rules? Otherwise there would be a non-level playing field,” he said in an interview to a newspaper.

The chairman stated two options to go about OTT services regulation.

He said there could either be licensing norms, wherein they pay a licensing fee to the government of a revenue sharing basis. The other option that he suggested was to put up a termination charge on call going through service such as Skype or Viber.

The consultation paper is scheduled to be out next month.

Last month, Microsoft-owned internet calling service Skype had discontinued its voice calling services to landlines and mobile phones within India. The company had clarified that this change only affects Skype calls to landlines and mobiles, and users can still make Skype-to-Skype calls within India free of cost (data usage applicable). They can also call mobiles and landlines in India from outside the country, as well as make calls from India to other countries.

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