Mobile operators are set to oppose any blanket ban on differential data tariff offered by them through select tie-ups with content providers. It is learnt that the operators are going to oppose any such move in their responses to the consultation paper on the subject, the last date for which has now been extended till January 7 by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.
The operators are going to maintain that such pricing was not discriminatory and should be allowed to continue. The core basis for their opposition to prohibiting such tariff packages would be that flexibility in setting tariff should be allowed. However, if the regulator has any concern regarding any aspect, there can be regulation regarding it.
To bolster their stand, they are going to refer to the past position the regulator has taken on issues like on-net and off-net calls and lifetime validity scheme. “In both these cases, the regulator had initially termed such move by the industry as discriminatory but upon examining them via a consultative process did not find any such thing. The result was that both the tariffs were allowed with some bit of regulation,” an industry source said.
The other aspect which the operators are going to highlight is that differential data tariff is allowed in several other countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Bangladesh and Thailand. In fact, Singapore’s largest mobile operator SingTel offers a data package for Facebook, which does not allow voice and video calling. For the latter the charges are higher. Similarly, in Hong Kong, operators provide a dual WhatsApp tariff — $8 for messaging and $18 for voice over internet protocol calls.
Industry sources said they are going to forcefully argue that prohibiting differential data tariff is akin to having a standard voice call rate. “Had that been the case with voice calls, today local call rates would have been higher than 50-60 paise a minute,” said an industry executive. In its consultation paper released on December 9, Trai had said that the perceived aim of such differential data packages, which provide free or discounted access to certain internet services, is to widen the internet user base in the country.