SingTel clarifies WhatsApp charging suggestion

SingTel CEO Chua Sock Koong has been featured for saying the network provider should charge for WhatsApp and Skype services, then roundly vilified by users for attempting to charge customers for the service.

The news has gone viral globally, leading the company to come out with a clarification on 27 February that it has suggested that WhatsApp, Skype and other ‘over the top’ providers should pay the money, and not the end-users themselves.

‘Over the top’ or OTT companies charge for their services which require a telecommunications network, but do not pay for use of the network so they don’t charge their users as much as the telecommunications companies would for the same service.

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Chua actually asked national regulators to give carriers like its Optus  brand the right to charge WhatsApp and Skype for the use of their networks, as rightly reported by the Sydney Morning Herald (headline ‘Singtel chief calls for right to charge challengers Skype and WhatsApp’).

When the news went out with headlines about charging WhatsApp, many misread the intent of SingTel’s statements. To add fuel to the fire, SingTel does actually have a data package for WhatsApp, where subscribers pay separately to use the service rather than to have the usage deducted from an existing data subscription.

The unhappiness went viral quickly. Many users have feared what WhatsApp’s success, based on its a very low cost model, is too good to be true, especially after it was acquired by Facebook recently, so the perceived news struck a nerve.

Yahoo Singapore reported on user feedback with the headline ‘SingTel draws flak for proposal to charge challengers WhatsApp, Skype for network usage’.

Such plans are common for Blackberry use, and SingTel also has packages for Opera and Facebook. It is not the only telecoms provider offering chat packages, either. StarHub has a WeChat plan that it has publicised quite heavily, for example.

SingTel had to clarify its stance yesterday, saying that asking WhatsApp and similar companies to pay isn’t the same as asking users to pay.  The news came through selected news outlets rather than an official statement on its website. Channel NewsAsia carried the story: ‘SingTel says no plans to charge customers’.

Having said that, it may only be a matter of time. In June 2013, the company announced that the cost of additional gigabytes of mobile data used above a subscription threshold would double, then backtracked on the statement in the face of widespread unhappiness from customers.

In August 2013, it re-instated the price hike and said it would occur by September. By December, rival M1 had also done the same.