Mobile subscribers to pay more: Mobile subscribers may have to shell out more for calls and data, reports said on Tuesday. Keeping in view the financial distress faced by the telecom sector, the Committee of Secretaries (CoS) constituted by the ruling NDA-II government may lower spectrum charges and end the era of free mobile phone calls and dirt cheap data. The Committee of Secretaries will comprise of secretaries to the ministries of finance, law, and telecom.

The government has asked the CoS to look at the demands and to examine all possible aspects of financial stress faced by telecom service providers (TSPs) (like Vodafone-Idea Ltd and Bharti Airtel) and take steps to assuage their plight. The CoS has also been asked to consider lowering the obligation of TSPs for providing 5 per cent of their annual revenues for the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF). At the same time, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has been asked to examine prescribing minimum charges for voice and data services.

Reports said the CoS will meet soon and submit its recommendations in a time-bound manner. The Secretaries panel will consider the demand of TSPs to defer spectrum auction payment for 2020-21 and 2021-22 in order to ease cash flow and lowering USOF charge to 3 per cent.

Bharti Airtel and Vodafone-Idea have been talking of financial stress after the Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio offered free voice and cheap data on its network. The matter assumed significance after October 24 when the Supreme Court in its verdict upheld government contention that non-core revenue in telecoms groups should be included in adjusted gross revenue (AGR). AGR is the figure on which statutory levies are charged. Since then, Airtel and Vodafone-Idea (India) are spending sleepless nights as both put together have a liability of around Rs 82,000 crore to be paid to the government. The DoT’s figure says, Bharti Airtel faces a liability of around Rs 42,000 crore, Vodafone-Idea about Rs 40,000 crore and Jio may have to pay around Rs 14 crore.

If we add the sum together, all the telecom operators may have to pay the government a whopping Rs 1.42 lakh crore within three months while the state-run BSNL/MTNL and some of the shut/bankrupt companies also shoulder the financial burden.

Bharti Airtel Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal and his brother Rajan Mittal met Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Telecom Secretary Anshu Prakash on Monday to discuss the financial stress being faced by them. Vodafone Idea Ltd Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla also sought time to meet the telecom officials to discuss the issues faced by them. However, the TSPs claim that a large amount of input tax credit is available to their credit in the government account which could be adjusted against future government levies.

Currently, 1 GB of Internet data is available in India at Rs 8 – which is the cheapest in the world. Due to intense competition in the telecom sector, the average revenue per user (ARPU) per month has declined from Rs 174 in the year 2014-15 to Rs 113 in 2018-19.

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