Are telecom operators taking customers for a ride? They charge data rates for voice calls made using over-the-top (OTT) services such as WhatsApp, Jio Chat, among others.
However, they get away without ensuring that such voice calls are of comparable quality to regular voice call service.
While charging for calls on WhatsApp and the like, telecom operators claim that the OTT is a data service that adds pressure on their data switch, and should be charged accordingly.
Customers using voice calls on various OTT platforms are charged on the same rate as the data transfer, on a pro-rata basis. As customers continue to make such calls without knowledge of the billing practice, and operators are choosing to inform them only when customers complain of higher bills, a debate is raging.
Telecom operators claim that providing voice calls over OTT is in violation of their licence conditions, and also upsets the level-playing field with regular voice calls.
“It is a service that runs on a telecom network and uses the infrastructure, and hence a cost should be there… If the app company is making money out of it (by charging customers), then they should share the revenue. They should also have similar conditions for offering voice services like operators,” said Rajan Mathews, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI).
Even as the debate continues, a committee set up by the communications ministry on the service parameters for the OTT applications has suggested stringent penal actions for any deterioration in quality of services offered. “We are waiting for the telecom regulator to come out with its report… But regulation in some form for the OTT players was a unanimous view among committee members,” said a top official and member of the committee.
In the event, OTT players may be asked to cough up a connectivity charge to telecom operators, or may even be asked to share revenue with the government, industry experts feel.
“It is premature to comment, but stringent regulation for the OTT players cannot be ruled out,” said NK Goyal, telecom analyst and founder of CMAI.
Telecom operators have also raised security-related questions about voice calls services provided by OTT players.