Airtel gets Trai chief Khullar's backing for encashing VoIP calls

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) chairman Rahul Khullar today said Airtel's move to charge VoIP calls is not illegal, even as net users across the country are up in arms against the move to impose fee for a service that has all the while been free.

Airtel on Friday said it has decided to charge separately for internet telephony services because it has to recover the large sums invested into rolling out network.

The move has jolted many an Indian who has been making VOIP (voice over internet protocol) calls to stay in touch with his/her friends and family members.

Bharti Airtel's decision to charge service providers has invited attention from both users and service providers who are now talking about how effective it would be in generating revenue.

The move has split not only the industry but also users and analysts. There are many who think that Indian users being smart will stop using services like Skype and Viber once they will be made to pay.

Airtel, however, said it would introduce the new tariff plan in phases after informing subscribers.

''Over the last 20 years, we have invested over Rs140,000 crore in rolling out telecommunication services in every nook and corner of the country. In addition, we have paid over Rs50,000 crore in terms of government levies in just five years. We, therefore, believe Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services in their current form are not tenable for us as a business. As a result, we will charge separately for VoIP services,'' the company said in a statement.

Airtel's move is being seen as a counter to Net telephony players such as Skype as they were eating into the telecom operator's voice telephony revenues. However, this has raised concerns over network neutrality issues. The IT Ministry on Thursday said it will look into Airtel's new tariff plan.

Airtel is offering VoIP specific data packs that will soon be launched. For prepaid users, the VoIP exclusive pack will be priced at Rs75 for 75MB with a validity of 28 days.