Most users are unhappy with the cap on ‘unlimited’ access plans.
Broadband internet service providers need to make their networks more capable, feel most Indian subscribers.
While all telcom companies operating in the country vouch for content and quality on broadband connections, users like 25-year-old Karan Anand, a digital media planner, are not happy with either the cap on ‘unlimited’ access or the browsing speed.
Anand had opted for the unlimited broadband Reliance Netconnect data plan that promised 3.1 mbps speed. But, he soon realised that once he had downloaded 10 GB of data in a given month, the speed dropped by one-tenth to 128 kbps.
“I download about 20-30 GB per month, but after I cross the 10-GB limit, the speeds are so bad that even my mobile internet has better speeds. I have spoken to all ISD providers but they said they do not have the bandwidth to give unlimited plans to everyone.”
Social media professional Vishal Gadkari is yet another consumer who was disappointed with his broadband connection and shares similar views. “I have never got a speed higher than 60 kbps.” The day Gadkari started using MTNL’s unlimited 512 kbps broadband connection, he realised that he had been taken for a ride by the customer care executive who had promised speeds of more than 300 kbps when he had signed up for the plan.
Complaints about browsing speeds or rather lack of it have been pouring in from across the country and the question that troubles most subscribers is whether they have access to ‘broadband’ at all. Well, if we go by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) definition broadband speeds are above 256 kbps and anything less than that do not qualify as broadband.
However, most telecom operators – like Bharti Airtel, BSNL, Tata Teleservices and MTS – have something called the Fair Usage Policy (FUP) for their high-end offers. For example, BSNL’s maximum unlimited plan has speeds of up to 4 Mbps, but there is a cap — for downloads of up to 8 GB. And beyond this limit, the connection speed is around 16 times slower at 256 kbps.
“Our data shows that over 80 per cent of our customers use less than 5 GB every month. What it means is that such limits are more than enough for the large majority of consumers. An average customer on our network uses eight-10 GBs in an unlimited plan, the limit is in form of speed reduction and not data transfer, which incidentally has no cap,” said a Bharti Airtel spokesperson.
Broadband users have protested against such policies, which came into effect in May last year on online forums like broadbandforum.in and indiabroadband.net. Many complain about lack of information and misinformation regarding the cut-of-speeds also called “throttling”.
Mathew Carley, director and COO of Hayai Broadband India, agrees that it is important for providers to implement FUP. “But, it has got to be fair to the consumer as well. After all, fair usage works both ways. As it is, the FUP limits that are placed on consumers in India are not fair. The FUP limits imposed now could be significantly increased by at least two to three times, in many cases, without needing to change the tariffs.”
A post by an Airtel customer on broadbandforum says: “I had opted for broadband services two months before Airtel introduced FUP. Since the policy came into effect customer care executives came up with different download points: One version was that speeds would touch 512kbps and not below that even if I hit 200GB. The other version said it would come down to 256kbps. Once I had gone past downloads of 25 GB, the browsing speed fell to 512kbps and subsequently to 256 kbps - possibly because I hit another speed limit.”
When Business Standard tried getting an answer from Bharti Airtel with a copy of such complaints, the attempt did not elicit any reply.
In a letter to Trai and Department of Telecommunications (DoT), a Bangalore-based broadband user wrote: “Once the unlimited broadband data is capped, it ceases to be an ‘unlimited’ plan. The Trai definition for broadband is being violated by Airtel in India and this is a very serious lapse.”
“However, I received no response from the regulator,” he said, requesting anonymity.
An industry insider said consumers have a choice — they can either opt for broadband connection that is slow and relatively cheap or fast and expensive. “It is better to avail the slow connections because they are value for money in terms of monthly quotas, especially for those prepared to leave their computers switched on overnight.”
Users of India Broadband Forum, a website created for broadband consumers to share their grievances and broadband experiences, have started an online petition against Airtel’s FUP.
“We are collecting signatures from people who are against the recently announced Airtel FUP which we believe was unfair to the existing customer base of the company, as well as to new customers,” said a team member.