India’s largest telecommunications provider, Bharti Airtel (known commonly as Airtel), has dropped its plan to charge its customers extra tariffs for any calls they make using VoIP services. Under its initial plan, Airtel customers would pay more to make calls using Skype, Viber and similar applications that allow users to make phone calls over the internet rather than the cellular network.
Although the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) indicated that the plan to charge more was not illegal, it confirmed that the policy would conflict with the principles of net neutrality. Net neutrality is the notion that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally to allow all users to experience equal network access.
The reversal of this key decision is reported to be a result of severe customer backlash, with Airtel customers taking to social media to express their discontent with the operator.
A website was set up to advocate against the move by Airtel and it was shared tens of thousands of times within hours, predominantly on Facebook and Twitter. Such was the disgust of Airtel’s customer base that they even suggested Airtel deserved to be targeted by notorious hacker group Anonymous.
Airtel has announced that its decision to reverse the plan is actually based on the upcoming consultation paper to be released by the TRAI, which will cover these issues from a regulatory perspective.
Whatever the reason, this is welcome news by advocates for net neutrality and, of course, Airtel’s large customer base. The topic of net neutrality and the treatment of VoIP services has become an extremely controversial one, with the world’s largest network operators struggling to compete with these services. Growth in VoIP applications has been exponential in recent times, and Airtel charging for their services would have simply set them back when other companies are offering VoIP with no charge.