Airtel Violates Net Neutrality; Will Now Charge Extra for Free Call and Chat Services
We have heard the term Net Neutrality a lot this year, mostly in the context of the politically charged conversation that is happening in Washington. Net Neutrality is a bedrock principle of the internet. It says that internet providers cannot pick and choose between different internet offerings. For e.g., internet providers cannot charge extra for YouTube or Skype or any other individual website or service. All websites must get equal speeds, and no service can be charged extra. Internet providers are actively trying to dismantle this principle to boost their revenues further. In India, Airtel has drawn the first blood and has introduced extra charges for Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
Bharti Airtel has brought out the new rates a day after Christmas when it thought no one would notice. The new rates almost feel like the company is holding you upside down and shaking down every last penny you got in your pocket.
This is the official quote from Airtel’s terms and conditions page:
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).
Here are the new rates:
|Features of VOIP services like Skype, Viber and other free apps||Before||Now|
|Audio||Rs. 0.00||Rs. 1.8 – Rs. 3.98 per minute|
|Video||Rs. 0.00||Rs. 22.50 per minute|
|HD-Video||Rs. 0.00||Rs. 135 per minute|
Telephony and Internet service providers have seen a dip in their earnings since the advent of app-based messaging and calling services. Services like WhatsApp have brought down SMS usage, and Skype and Viber like services have affected call based revenues for the companies. This has led to expensive internet data packs which have also resulted in protests in the past. The mobile market in India has become monopolistic as the rates have become stagnant across all service providers. There aren’t a lot of choices left for the consumers. But this move by Airtel is a major assault on the freedom of the internet and can lead to even more attacks on net neutrality if not protested right now. The company has made video chatting service more expensive than ISD calling.
In the information age, internet has become an essential utility, and every day is becoming more intertwined with our lives. We now use it for paying bills, shopping, apply for jobs, gathering knowledge and much more. It has also allowed small start-ups to take on big companies. But by decimating net neutrality, companies like Airtel and others can charge you different rates for different websites. Imagine paying for a browsing data pack, a separate pack for WhatsApp, and an another one for YouTube, and so on. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Airtel just took a step closer to making that future a reality.
A free and open internet is important; it should not just be a service anymore, it should be considered an inviolable right, just like right to freedom of speech. Net Neutrality is supported by big names of the tech world like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and others. Airtel has opened a can of worms that needs to be immediately shut down and buried. In America, even President Obama has stood by the Net Neutrality principle. Airtel needs to mend its ways immediately.
Here’s John Oliver explaining the importance of Net Neutrality in his own style.
Should India become the first country in the world to violate Net Neutrality?
1. Minister of Telecom has said that the government is looking into it and will come with a structured response.
2. According to TOI, Airtel has said that the new VOIP charges are only meant for Audio calls only, video chats can still be done through data packs. The company says that there will be a 6 month cooling off period before the new charges are introduced. They also added that only prepaid customers would have to get the VOIP pack for audio calls.