The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) said in a letter to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) that the telecom operators provided over Rs 600 crore of benefits, Economic Times reported. According to the report, COAI, the industry body representing telecom operators like Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea said that the benefits were offered to prepaid customers by validity extensions and additional talk time. The telecom operators in India including BSNL, Airtel and Vodafone Idea offered Rs 10 talk time and extended validity to many prepaid customers. While BSNL extended the validity to April 20, 2020, Airtel and Vodafone Idea extended the prepaid validity to April 17.
Further, COAI in its letter said that if the government or the regulator feel the need for the telecom operators to provide further benefit, then a subsidy should be given to the telecom sector.
According to the report, COAI even had suggested the funds for the subsidy could be compensated from the Rs 51,500 crore lying unutilised in the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).
The COAI’s letter was in response to the initial directive from TRAI asking the telecom operators to offer benefits to all prepaid users.
Airtel said that it offered its prepaid benefits to 80 million “low-income” customers while Vodafone Idea said that the benefits were offered to nearly 100 million “low income” customers. Neither Vodafone Idea nor Airtel in the releases explained who it considered to be a “low income” customer.
Additionally, COAI in its letter also highlighted that the top three telecom operators had together offered benefits to 280 to 300 million customers. COAI said that the customers who required support from telecom operators were 80 to 100 million.
Rajan Mathews, director of COAI, in his letter to Trai added that “the sector finds itself in a very unstable situation” due to huge debts. Further, the financial situation of the sector has been “acknowledged by all” with TRAI issuing “a consultation paper on floor prices” to aid the telecom operators. Mathews said that the COAI was “taken back” to see the directive from TRAI sent to the operators.