mobile india (1)

By Salman SH and Nikhil Pahwa

Goa is rolling out free data schemes in partnership with Vodafone India to provide 3GB of data bundled with 100 minutes of talktime with new SIM cards, reports Economic Times. Under an agreement between the state and Vodafone, the telco is required to provide data at minimum speeds of 2 mbps while the government will pay Rs 1 crore as monthly fee as subsidy. The free data initiative titled ‘Goa Yuva Samvad Yojan’ will mainly target the youth population between 18-35, the report added.

Update: A spokesperson from Vodafone India confirmed with MediaNama that they have rolled out the govt scheme starting today.

This subsidy is being offered as per a tendering process. Tender document (download here), suggests that it was meant to find a telecom operator which will give
– Free 100 minutes Local Voice Calls
– Free 3 GB 3G/4G data services with minimum of 2Mbps download speed
– Free SIM card

Vodafone will have to “…automatically block the plan towards the beneficiaries who crosses 35 year age mark.”

Monitoring usage of apps

Vodafone will have to setup minimum 500 activation outlets, and all user applications will have to be “accompanied with the copy of Aadhar Card, one Age proof, and document stating 5 Years residence proof in Goa. The Government of Goa may introduce Aadhar based e-KYC authentication of the applicant.” In addition, Vodafone,

  • “…has to ensure that all applications approved by Government of Goa/GEL are activated in not more than 5 working days.”
  • has to provide “data usage of apps as identified by Government of Goa/GEL
  • “The selected bidder has to provide a tool to monitor the usage of apps as identified by government.”

Do read the Tender document.

Why only Vodafone?

It was meant to target around 150,000 people, for three years. Doing the math, Rs 1 crore per month means that at full capacity, the state is spending Rs 66 per user. The point, though, is that this tendering process should be restricted to the idea of price-discovery. If another telecom operator is able to match it, why not lets others also provide this. What this will do is make people within the 18-35 age group switch from other telecom operators to Vodafone, and is essentially an opportunity for Vodafone to poach customers from other service providers, at the cost of the Goa exchequer. As per the tender document, “The citizen will have to pay only the excess usage charges if they exceed the allowed free quota for the month.”

Officials speaking to ET said that Vodafone has apparently begun rolling out the scheme at its outlets to users purchasing new Vodafone SIMs. The state government has also set up a “centralized online management system” to monitor how the scheme is dispersed and ensure that it isn’t misused, added the report.

Interestingly, last month Vodafone had provided free data of 2GB to its existing subscribers in Mumbai, Harayana, Tamil Nadu and Punjab who upgrade to 4G SIMs.

Apart from this, last month, US-based mobile app developer Syntonic launched its data cash back and promotion app Freeway in India which provides data to subscribers on Airtel, Idea, Vodafone, RCOM for downloading games, apps, etc from its platform. Mukesh-Ambani owned Reliance Jio is also providing 1GB of free 4G data daily to all of its users until March 2017.

The issue of free data in India

In May, telecom regulator TRAI had issued a consultation paper on Free data which discussed “a need to have some TSP (Telecom operator) agnostic platform” that allows app developers to promote their services by providing free data usage. TRAI is yet to come out with a stance on this. MediaNama had however pointed out at the time of consultation that providing free data/voice minutes which is not restricted to use within certain app or sites is neutral and has the same effect of providing a reward to a user.

Any free data scheme that dictates the user on how to utilize the data is equal to zero-rating. For example, a telco could be providing a recharge pack that provides some amount of paid data, bundled with free data. Users could be allowed free access to certain websites and applications using this free data. This allows certain services/apps to be provided essentially for free without impacting the mobile bill of users. This is equal to differential pricing and is currently banned by TRAI in a ruling in February.

Also Read:
MediaNama’s submission to TRAI on Free Data and Net Neutrality
MediaNama counter-comments to TRAI on the issue of Free Data