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Congress critisizes govt over mobile phone tariff hike by 3 leading firms

Hitting out at the government over three private firms increasing mobile service tariffs, the Congress on Friday accused it of “fleecing” 109 crore cell phone users and asked how can the firms be permitted to unilaterally increase rates without any oversight and regulation.

Congress general secretary Randeep Surjewala said it may be Modi 3.0 but the thriving of “crony capitalism” continues.

The Narendra Modi government is fleecing 109 crore cell phone users by sanctioning profiteering by private cell companies, he said at a press conference at the AICC headquarters here.

“Effective July 3, the three private cell phone companies, i.e. Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, have increased their tariffs by an average of 15 per cent. The three private cell phone companies have a market share of 91.6 per cent, or 109 crore cell phone users out of a total of 119 crore cell phone users as on December 31, 2023,” Surjewala said.

The total additional yearly payment from the pockets of the common man and woman of India seeking connectivity is Rs 34,824 crore, he said, citing TRAI.

Cell phone market in India is an ‘oligopoly’ – Reliance Jio (48 crore cell phone users), Airtel (39 crore cell phone users), Vodafone Idea (22.37 crore cell phone users), Surjewala said.

Out of these, Jio and Airtel have a customer base of 87 crore making them a virtual duopoly, he said.

Effective July 3, 2024, Reliance Jio has increased its cell phone user’s charges from 12 per cent to 27 per cent and the average increase is 20 per cent, Surjewala said.

Effective July 3, 2024, Airtel has increased its cell phone user’s charges from 11 per cent to 21 per cent with the average increase being 15 per cent, he said.

Effective July 4, 2024, Vodafone Idea has increased its cell phone user’s charges from 10 per cent to 24 per cent with the average increase being 16 per cent, Surjewala said.

“Two things stand out ‘“ Firstly, the date of announcement of increase of tariffs, appears to be clearly in consultation with each other by the three private cell phone companies. Secondly, the date of effective implementation of increased tariffs is the same,” he said.

Surjewala claimed that the additional per year burden of tariff increase is Rs. 34,824 crore for 109 crore cell phone users of these three private cell phone companies.

How can private cell phone companies be permitted to unilaterally increase cell phone tariffs by Rs 34,824 crore annually without any oversight and regulation by the Modi government, he asked.

Surjewala also asked why have the Modi government and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) abdicated their duty and responsibility towards 109 cell phone users.

“Wasn’t the increase in cell phone prices withheld till the conclusion of the Parliament elections as the Modi government would have been questioned on the justification for burdening 109 crore cell phone users and fleecing them of an extra Rs 34,824 crore?” Surjewala said.

Did the Modi government or TRAI conduct any study on need of CAPEX or impact on profitability by purchase of spectrum through auction after taking into account the previous set of concessions on AGR payable under Telecom Policy, 1999 or deferring of “Spectrum Auction Installments” by Modi 2.0 on November 20, 2019 or other related factors, he asked.

“How can all Private Cellphone Companies increase their average tariffs by the same range of 15per cent-16per cent, despite the fact that their profitability, investment and CAPEX requirements are completely different? Why is the Modi government is then turning a blind eye to the same?” Surjewala said.

“Isn’t it correct that the Supreme Court of India, in “Delhi Science Forum versus Union of India” clearly stated that ‘the central government and the Telecom Regulatory Authority have not to behave like sleeping trustees, but have to function as active trustees for the public good’?” he said.

Surjewala asserted that the prime minister must answer to the people of India, including the 109 crore affected cell phone users.

Bharti Airtel last month announced a 10-21 per cent hike in prepaid and postpaid mobile tariffs from July 3, a day after larger rival Reliance Jio announced an increase in rates.

Later that day, loss-making telecom operator Vodafone Idea (Vi) also announced its plan to raise mobile tariffs by 11-24 per cent from July 4. PTI

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