Modi govt inherited high cost of mobile internet from UPA govt: Ravi Shankar Prasad

NEW DELHI: Union law and information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Monday tweeted that the Narendra Modi-government inherited the high cost of mobile internet Rs 268.97 per GB in 2014 from the UPA government, and since then has expanded mobile telephony with consumer satisfaction.

His tweets follow All India Congress Committee spokesperson Pawan Khera's comments on Sunday that private operators were set to gain Rs 36,000 crore every month from the tariff hikes on voice and data services, which will go from consumers' pockets.

"The mobile phone mess was the scam-tainted legacy of UPA. We have set it right, expanded mobile telephony with consumer satisfaction. Also Committed to making BSNL/ MTNL professional and profitable," Prasad tweeted on Monday.

"Government of @narendramodi inherited the high cost of mobile internet from UPA, which was as high as Rs 268.97 per GB in 2014. Now it is Rs 11.78 per GB, as per TRAI," his second tweet read.

Prasad, citing UK-based firm Cable.co.uk's analysis, also tweeted that India’s mobile internet rate per GB is by far the lowest in the world.

The average wireless data price is expected to increase to Rs 16.49 by 2019 end due to the tariff hike by all three telcos, but will still remain cheapest in the world, government sources said. They added that the average price paid by consumers for per outgoing calls will marginally increase to 18 paise, up from 13 paise in March 2019.

About a billion mobile phone subscribers will pay up to 40% or so more to make calls and use data from this month, with private operators Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea increasing prices for the first time since 2016 to shore up finances. Analysts said the increases would be the biggest in India’s telecom industry, with the pricing of voice services back for most plans. The government nudged the three telcos to bite the bullet after a prolonged price war since 2016 damaged industry finances and heavily hurt revenues.

Vodafone Idea also scaled-down data offers or tweaked prices to force customers to spend more to continue getting the same benefits. Both increased rates only for prepaid subscribers, who account for over 90% of their user base, starting December 3. Price increases by Jio, which caters to 355 million customers, will be effective from December 6.

Congress' Khera questioned the India government's decisions on allowing private telecom operators to raise prices on one hand and on the other giving them a two-year moratorium on spectrum-related payments including interest and penalties.

In a statement, Khera had said that an average voice tariff increase of Rs 100 per month for 120 crore subscribers would mean a benefit of Rs 12,000 crore while a Rs 200 increase in data tariff per month would lead to a benefit of Rs 24,000 crore.

Prasad, citing UK-based firm Cable.co.uk's analysis, also tweeted that India’s mobile internet rate per GB is by far the lowest in the world.

Analysts at various brokerage firms are of the view that tariff hike by all three telcos -- Reliance Jio, Vodafone Idea Limited, and Bharti Airtel --- will improve the overall financial health of the telecom sector, and will help these telcos increase their respective average revenue per users (ARPUs).

“Telecom players have recognized hyper-competition and have put in corrective measures (tariff hike) in place which is the first step towards moving to financial health while they (telcos) continue to work with the government to see the additional areas where health of the sector can be improved,” Rajan S Mathews, director-general of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) told ET.

He added that AGR payments are to be made by January-end, so something significant had to be done by the industry to address the need to get those fund