As the debate on net neutrality heats up in the country, telecom operator Uninor has made a controversial update on its social data packs and has said that voice over internet protocol (VoIP) calls will be excluded from them. However, VoIP calls can be made on normal data packs without paying any extra charges.
Uninor currently offers five data packs which offer Facebook and WhatsApp free (a net neutrality violation in itself) but mentions at the bottom that VoIP features are not a part of the social data packs. The move seems to be to protect its voice revenues as WhatsApp recently introduced voice calling features on Android and iOS devices. India is also the biggest market for WhatsApp and in November said that it has hit 70 million monthly active users (MAUs) in the country while globally it has has over 800 million MAUs.
Telecom Talk points out that it is unclear whether Uninor subscribers will be charged at base tariffs or whether VoIP calls will be blocked altogether. It also remains to be seen whether Uninor’s social packs will allow subscribers to use them only for message communications.
Earlier this month, Uninor started offering access Wikipedia without any data charges. Last year, Uninor had started offering its subscribers Facebook at Rs 0.5 per hour and Re 1 for a day of WhatsApp. At the time, Uninor’s nominated CEO Morten Karlsen Sorby had said that the company was “moving out of data and moving in to Internet”. He had added that “selling Internet as rupees per MB is like selling air or train tickets as rupees per kilometer. What customers do with Internet is to use it for services like Facebook or WhatsApp. Our plan is to make these services the cheapest on Uninor.”
It’s also worth noting that in November last year, the Norwegian telecom regulator had clearly stated that zero rating was in violation of the Norwegian guidelines on net neutrality. Given that the Government of Norway owns significant stake in Telenor Group, which owns 100% stake in Uninor, why does the telco have a different policy in its own country and a different one for India?
India’s largest telecom operator Airtel came under fire last December when it decided to introduce separate data packs for VoIP services and withdrew them thus forcing TRAI to issue a consultation paper on net neutrality.
Image source: Flickr User Tom Magliery