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AirTel cuts pre-paid airtime

New Delhi, Feb. 3: Airtel — the country’s largest cellular operator — has cut the airtime of its pre-paid customers from February 1 with the launch of its free mobile-to-mobile incoming call facility.

The move to reduce the airtime from Rs 193.80 to Rs 150 for a Rs 300 pre-paid card has been suspiciously viewed by customers, who feel that it is a charge they are being forced to pay for the free cell-to-cell incoming calls.

Cellular operators had talked about levying a charge of Rs 48-50 for the facility, but this was shot down by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).

Airtel claims that it is not charging the fee. However, it has taken a circuitous route to justify the lower airtime. The company has increased the processing fee from Rs 124 to Rs 150 per connection. It has also managed to get Trai approval for raising the fee. This means a user who used to get an airtime worth Rs 193 on a pre paid coupon of Rs 300 plus Rs 15 service tax will now get only Rs 150. The remaining Rs 17 is accounted for under different heads such as rentals, which is packaged into the fee. “The reduction in airtime rates are due to the hike in processing fee. This has been made constant for pre-paid subscribers,” company executives said.

“We have not introduced the Rs 49 that we had proposed for free mobile-to-mobile incoming calls to balance the impact on the network. The decision not to impose the charge was taken after the regulator had instructed the operators,” they added.

AirTel’s pre-paid subscribers are estimated to be more than four lakh out of the total nine lakh subscribers. The company had recently announced a new pre -paid scheme that comes with a start-up kit, including a processing fee of Rs 299, free airtime of Rs 50 (valid for 7 days), outgoing per minute calls of Rs 2.40 and free mobile-to-mobile incoming calls.

While a charge of 50 paise will be taken for a call received from limited-mobile or fixed-line phones, the company claims that it will take away this charge once the Interconnect Usage Charge comes into effect on April 1. In addition, the pre-paid package will also give subscribers a 20 per cent discount on ISD calls.

Trai had categorically stated that the operators cannot impose any fee for providing incoming calls from any phone — cellular mobile, fixed or limited mobile.

The new package from AirTel came into effect last week for new customers, while existing customers will be migrated as per their request between February 15 and 28.

The pulse rate will be the standard at 60 seconds.

“These plans include special features like free incoming mobile-to-mobile calls and attractive discounts on ISD calls. These new freedom plans will result in huge savings for our subscribers and further reinforce our promise of delivering the best value in the market,” said Anil Nayar, president (mobility), Bharti Tele-Ventures.

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