The Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) has written to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) stating that telecom operators have provided adequate relief to low-income subscribers despite financial stress and any expectation of extending benefit to all prepaid users is not appropriate.

Furthermore, COAI said that in case TRAI and the government still feel the need for extension of benefits to all prepaid feature phone subscribers, then this should be provided in the form of a subsidy to the telecom sector like many other essential services. Substantiating this statement, COAI in its letter to TRAI, added that this could be adequately compensated from the Universal Service Obligation fund (USOF) where more than Rs 515 billion is being lying unutilised as on March 31, 2020.

As per the industry body, the value of benefits announced by telecom companies for low-income users, including extension of validity and talktime credit, is estimated to be over Rs 6 billion, even on conservative basis.

In COAI’s argument, providing benefits indiscriminately even to privileged customers would amount to unjustified subsidy to a larger section at a steep loss to industry.