In August, Bharti Airtel launched a music streaming app called Wynk. The basic version of this comes with a subscription fee of R99 per month for Android phone users and R120 per month for Apple users. However, Bharti users get this subscription waived if they use the company’s 3G or 4G services.
Also, the premium version of the app that comes with a subscription fee of R129 a month and offers about 500 songs for download is available only for Bharti Airtel users, wherein the company has waived off data charges. While subscribers of other operators can download this app, they will have to pay for the download charges. If the Trai consultation paper which came on Wednesday becomes a regulation, this will become illegal.
No wonder, mobile operators as well as over-the-top players like Facebook were stumped by the consultation paper, which aims to scrutinise differential data tariffs being offered by operators through select tie-ups with content providers as well 4G offering, which enables consumers to download certain movies or applications free of charge.
Though still at a consultative stage, the apprehension is that if such a move finally becomes a regulation, it will sound a death knell for various marketing innovation companies come up with through various tie-ups with content providers. The concern is more because consultation on such a regulation comes at a time when some operators like Bharti and Vodafone have launched their 4G services with components which the regulator views as discriminatory and uncompetitive, and Reliance Jio Infocomm is expected to launch its services with a bouquet of such services.
Speaking to FE, Kevin Martin, VP, mobile and global access policy, Facebook, said that while they appreciate Trai’s acknowledgment that its offerings like Internet.org (now renamed Free Basics) helps bring the unconnected on the internet, there should be flexibility in the manner in which the operators devise their packages.
Sounding critical of one of the alternatives suggested by Trai that content providers directly reimburse consumers irrespective of which mobile operator they have used to visit the website, Martin said, “We have not found any evidence of such a route bringing the unconnected people on the Net”. He added, “While the measures enunciated by Trai like operators providing free minutes of data everyday or content providers reimbursing directly is fine, there should be more flexibility for operators and app providers to devise approaches. There should be no one way as the consumer wants other opportunities also.”
Mobile operators declined to comment officially, saying they will respond to it as part of the consultative process but unofficially said that the move was akin to “asking that there should be one standard tariff and no variation, which would mean that our marketing measures become redundant”.
They have a reason be concerned. Bharti Airtel, which launched its pan-India 4G services in August, offers a host of services where it offers its subscribers some freebies and discounts for downloading its music and movie apps, among others. Vodafone, which kicked off its 4G services from Kochi earlier this week, also has some similar packages. Reliance Jio is set to commercially launch its 4G services, which heavily relies on such measures. Next year, even Idea Cellular has lined up the launch of its 4G services.
“How else do we compete if all we can offer is a standard data package?” asked an executive from a leading mobile firm.