COAI to TRAI: Needy subscribers well-supported, subsidise further coverage
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has said that the telecom service providers have taken adequate measures to ensure that the under-privileged subscribers get the required benefits and are well connected during the lockdown period.
It also said that if more subscribers need to be covered under their offers, then the government will have to subsidise the telecom operators.
In a letter, the telecom industry body said that it would unviable for the operators to extend the benefit to all subscribers, including those who can afford such benefits on their own.
It said that, if the regulator and the government feels the need for further benefits for all the prepaid phone subscribers, then this should be provided in the form of a subsidy to the telcos, like in the case of other essential services.
"This could be adequately compensated from the USO Fund where more than Rs 51,500 crore is being lying unutilised as on 31.03.2020", it said.
The strong reaction came from the telcos after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on April 7 said in a letter to the telcos that they were selectively increasing validity of prepaid users during the lockdown. TRAI had said that many 2G prepaid users across the country remained without connectivity and are unable to recharge.
It noted that adequate measures have been taken by the TSPs to ensure that those who genuinely require support from the service providers due to unavailability of options to recharge their services have been extended this support.
"While operators have been careful to adopt a calibrated approach, which not only caters to the truly needy and their predicament butgoing well beyond this immediate class, in the interest of abundant caution, we cannot believe it is the intention of TRAI that such benefits should be indiscriminately provided to even those privileged ones who are well able to afford such services and need no incentives or provisions to avail of continued mobile services," said the letter written by COAI DG, Rajan Mathews.
Such a move would amount to an "unjustified subsidy to this larger class of customers at a steep loss to the industry", Rajan said in the letter, adding that it would also dissuade other customers from recharging, who at present are recharging dutifully using various digital and non-digital means.
Citing the deep financial stress in the sector, the letter said that at present, the sector finds itself in a very unstable situation reeling under huge debts.
It said that the value of the benefits extended would be over Rs 600 crore, even on a conservative basis.
"To ensure continuity of service to the citizens, who are at the bottom of the pyramid and are not in a position to recharge their prepaid services, our member operators have provided extended validity for continuation of their services and talk time benefits to enable them to make essential calls.
"These efforts are in line with the efforts and decisions of the government to ensure that such citizens can remain connected for essential needs. Even on conservative basis, the value of such benefits is more than Rs 600 crore".
The letter addressed to S.K. Gupta, Secretary, TRAI, said the customers who actually required support from the telecom service providers for continuation of their services in the initial period of lockdown are in the range of 80-100 million and the operators have collectively extended the benefits for continuation of services to around 280-300 million subscribers.
"The authority and the government would appreciate that the industry has not only provided this benefit to the needy subscribers but also gone well beyond as an abundant provision. We are therefore taken aback to see the letter issued by the authority to our members," said the COAI letter. IANS
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