The Department of Telecom (DoT) is considering opening up the Internet telephony segment and allowing unrestricted calls by consumers using their Internet connections.
The Hindu Business Line has quoted some unnamed senior officials in the department who said a change in policy in this regard may be included in the New Telecom Policy, which is expected to be finalised by November.
"We have received representations from the industry and from within the DoT to open up net telephony. We are seriously looking at how to go about it," said the top DoT official to the newspaper. The issue was also discussed at a July 13 meeting with Indian Telecom Services officers.
In 2008, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had made a recommendation to allow unrestricted Net telephony to all operators including Internet Service Providers (ISPs), without imposing any additional entry fee or licence charges. However, the DoT had rejected the proposal at that time on grounds that it would disturb the level playing field with incumbent mobile operators that have paid Rs 1,650 crore as entry fee. But now the DoT is having a rethink since it is reviewing the telecom policy in its entirety.
Rajesh Charia, president, Internet service providers association of India, said to The Mobile Indian, "We have not received any such information. However, we will welcome such a move as we have been demanding that for a long time now".
He added, "The space should be opened for all, but we do not know if some restrictions on the size of the company or a fees may be applied. If that happens, it will hamper the growth".
If unrestricted net telephony is allowed, it will enable players such as the Mukesh Ambani-promoted Reliance Infotel, which recently bought broadband wireless access spectrum, to offer voice services along with data. Reliance Infotel had bought the spectrum as an ISP.
Under existing rules, only operators with unified access services licence are allowed to offer unrestricted net telephony. However, none of the players, including Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular, has launched it in India probably fearing losing their traditional minutes-based voice revenue.
Operators without unified access licence are allowed to offer net telephony services for international calling and PC-to-PC domestic calls. Removing the restrictions will allow all the broadband players who are rolling out fourth generation (4G) technology based networks to compete in the voice market. But here again most of the operators having got the 4G license are mobile operators, who might not launch such a service.
It will also provide Internet companies such as Sify, Tulip Telecom and Net4India an opportunity to offer consumers both long-distance and local calls. This could also force the incumbent mobile players to launch the service. If that happens services such as Google Voice and Skype would be available on mobile phones.
These services, if started, will further reduce calling rates for people and also provide a push to broadband penetration in the country, fuelling a price war in this space as well, reducing the charges of broadband access.
To make Internet calls, one does not necessarily need to invest on a PC or an Internet-enabled mobile phone; one can also use a normal fixed-line telephone to make calls over the Internet. In this case too, subscribers will have to buy a pre-paid net telephony card which works just like the long-distance calling cards currently available in the market.
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