Indian mobile users still pay lowest tariffs in world: Government

NEW DELHI: A day after the telecom companies increased tariffs by between 10% and 45%, the government maintained that Indian mobile phone customers still pay the lowest in the world, while also blaming the “scam-tainted legacy” of the earlier Congress-led UPA government for the “high cost of internet” previously and the “mobile phone mess”.

The hike was criticised by Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra who, in a tweet, alleged that the BJP government allowed private operators to increase tariffs while weakening state-owned telcos BSNL and MTNL.

Telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that data costs in India have come down sharply since the Modi government came to power in 2014. “The government of Narendra Modi inherited the high cost of mobile internet from the UPA, which was as high as Rs 268.97 per GB in 2014. Now it is Rs 11.78 per GB, as per Trai,” the minister said in a series of tweets issued towards the evening.

The announcement of the sharp tariff hikes by Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio has seen concerns in certain quarters that consumer tariffs will go up sharply, and customers will now need to pay substantially more for calls and mobile internet.

“India’s mobile internet rate per GB remains by far the lowest in the world. UK-based, which compared mobile data plans around the world, has indicated this,” the minister said, quoting the report which was released earlier this year.

Prasad said that the BJP government has worked on a series of initiatives to nurse the telecom industry back to health. “The mobile phone mess was the scam-tainted legacy of the UPA. We have set it right, expanded mobile telephony with consumer satisfaction. Also, committed to make BSNL/MTNL professional and profitable.”

Telecom companies had decided to hike tariffs after a period of three years as the business of older companies such as Airtel and Vodafone Idea remains in losses and they face huge outstandings towards the government, including the dues that have come up after the October 24 adjusted gross revenue (AGR) judgment of the Supreme Court.

On Sunday, Airtel and Vodafone Idea, who were badly hit after Jio launched services in September 2016 with highly-aggressive plans, announced an increase in the tariffs (only for their pre-paid customers) from December 3, the hike ranging between 10% and 45%, while also making the minimum monthly entry plan expensive, hiking it from Rs 35 to Rs 49. Reliance Jio said that it will be increasing the tariffs on its ‘all-in-one’ plans by 40% from December 6.

The tariff hikes will impact voice calling in a big way, with customers getting limited minutes (under fair usage policy or FUP) when calling to customers of other networks. For example, on Vodafone Idea, a Rs 299 charge for 28 days will give 1,000 minutes free on calls to other networks, beyond which 6 paise per minute will be charged. Airtel also said that FUP will apply to all its ‘unlimited calling’ plans.

Voice calls will, however, continue to be completely free when customers call someone on the same network

While the books of telecom companies will gain from the tariff hikes, the government is also expected to share the gains. Telecom companies pay the department of telecom a share of their revenues through the revenue-share regime, and this will help the government exchequer get higher amounts from them.

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