We are pretty sure not many would have even heard about Net Neutrality in India, but it’s high time that it becomes a hot discussion. Bharti Airtel, India’s largest telecom provider has silently started charging standard data rates for VoIP data usage on all Internet data packs and plans. This means Airtel subscribers who have subscribed for some 2G or 3G data packs will be charged additional rates when making VoIP calls.

As per the new data policy which is hidden under fine print,

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).

airtel-voice calls

Henceforth, customers will be charged at 4 paisa per 10KB on 3G and 10 paisa per 10KB on 2G when they make voice calls using services like Skype, Viber, Google Hangouts etc. WhatsApp is rumored to start providing free voice calling feature soon. Internet data includes voice data, video data and text data, but never before a carrier has dared to charge extra for one of the types alone.

Net Neutrality is a hot topic across the globe. In the US, there’s a proposal to provide fast-lanes for premium service providers like Netflix and Hulu who’ll be paying premium rates to the data providers in order to provide seamless service to their customers. US government including Barack Obama has voiced displeasure over such arrangements which puts Net Neutrality at stake.

What Airtel has done breaks the basic premise of Net Neutrality. It is true that voice calls take considerably higher bandwidth than text data, but it’s not like Indians pay dirt cheap prices for data. Instead of investing more on improving the infrastructure, one of the largest telecom carriers is indulging in dirty games. It’s not long before others like Vodafone, Idea and Aircel adapt a similar policy, unless TRAI jumps in. In the past we have seen that the carriers had proposed to charge connectivity fee for ‘Over-the-Top players’ like WhatsApp and Viber which was thrashed by TRAI. Instead, Airtel is charging the customers for the same.

What’s next? Charging extra for streaming music or watching YouTube videos? Mind you, VoIP calls in India is at a nascent stage, but video streaming has already picked up. This can only be a start to what we will see in the near future, unless curbed right away.

Update: We had reached out to Airtel and this is what they had to say –

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.

Now this is interesting. They will have a separate data pack for voice calls. And what next? A separate data pack for video streaming? A separate data pack for music streaming? This is completely anti-net neutrality.

Update 2: Union Telecom minister, Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad has clarified that the government will look into the matter and will get back with a structured response.

Update 3: Airtel details its new VoIP exclusive Data plans.

Update 4: Airtel has rolled back the proposed VoIP plans as TRAI has set up a consultation to reign in OTT players.


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Raju is the founder-editor of Technology Personalized. A proud geek and an Internet freak, who is also a social networking enthusiast. You can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter. Mail Raju PP. Follow rajupp

 
 

28 thoughts on “Net Neutrality at Stake in India; Airtel Starts Charging for VoIP Data [Updated]

  1. These things will quietly happen. Without much fuss or ado. This business friendly government will not oppose it. Only the courts can be the saviour.

  2. I already ported out of this guy after being loyal for 8 years. Very very very poor 2G/3G internet quality in Chennai circle and calls drop very frequently.

    • True. Same here, ported to Vodafone. Was a loyal customer of Airtel since 2007-2014(sept). Then finally they put coffin on my loyalty, by deducting Rs.99 fr 2times saying i went on certain i.p adress and when i enquired about the address, it belonged to a website of chinese newspaper vendor.

  3. This is pretty sad. The amazing part is that nobody is even questioning this in India! Do they even have the right to ‘define / circumscribe’ internet usage that way? Have they taken permission from TRAI to be able to do this? Questions that need to be asked from Airtel!

  4. When you buy internet service from an ISP/telecom operator, it means the consumer is buying data transmission capability to internet that runs over IP protocol. ‘Internet’ is a very well defined service. When the ISP starts blocking the packets or starts charging differentially for the data packets depending upon the content of the packets (whether they are carrying voice, in this case), it is grossly illegal and anti-consumer. It is also anti-privacy — Airtel has no right to sniff my data packets to determine its content.

    While they may have paid off TRAI officials to keep their mouth shut (Is that why TRAI is still silent?), Airtel subscribers should feel free to approach consumer forums. They are paying for internet service and the service provider is now adulterating the service.

    Companies like Google and Skype should take Airtel to court for this as Airtel is sniffing (reading) the packets that originate from their applications or are destined to their servers.

  5. Raju PP, it is not just about net neutrality. Net neutrality is not yet a legally accepted principle in India, though it is being debated. It is about cheating the consumers by adulterating the service for which the consumer is paying.

    • I know. Deep packet inspection is extremely dangerous and hurts in a long run. Will try to write a detailed article on this. Your inputs does help a lot

      • Include the analogy of a postman. Where he should deliver a letter at same charge regardless of what words are used inside the letter. This is equivalent to the postman opening and reading the letter and then deciding to charge extra if the letter is written in English instead of Hindi.

      • That is a worrying trend. I received a mail yesterday detailing my usage pattern and I got really worried. Though I don’t mostly use stuff that requires encryption (except my work, which is encrypted by default) it is worrying that Airtel is snooping into what I am doing and analyzing and logging everything. I already use a VPN for my broadband connection out of fear of snooping by the local provider, but I was not much worried about Airtel. Looks like I’m gonna have to start for my mobile also. The problem is that VPN is much slower than a direct connection. It is sad that Indian customers get screwed over even after paying so much money to get “good” service.

  6. Dear Airtel. FUCK YOU. Transmission of packets is a well defined service with no differential rates for streaming video or downloading a file. It doesn’t cost “extra” to transmit a data packet. Too bad you guys are living in the jurassic age and cannot accept that your role is now limited to being a dumb pipe for the Internet. Probably you should have spent your Ad dollars better.

  7. That’s completely outrageous. Yes, you are right next there will be a Youtube pack , Facebook pack etc! It clearly shows Airtel only interested making money and don’t care about customer

  8. Unfortunately majority of the Indians are uneducated about things like net neutrality, have little no technical know how. Yes there are people who are knowledgeble, but they’re so less in number that it doesn’t even matter. Internet is still catching up in India and most people won’t even see any problems with such things as internet is not a big part of anyone’s daily lives

  9. I was planning to get an Airtel postpaid connection. I’m glad I saw this before.
    I’m even going to cancel my Airtel prepaid connection now in protest.

  10. I know BSNL sucks to the core when it comes to Customer Service, but atleast they don’t come up with ridiculous ways to screw the customers.

    Have tried all networks and settled with BSNL. No marketing calls, no fraudulent billing, very affordable data plans, no spam messages, no frequent change of plans, decent coverage

    Al long as things don’t go wrong, BSNL works really well, but once you need to contact customer care, you will suddenly realize the pain

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