Vietnam's major telecom companies, MobiFone and Vinaphone, have raised their 3G fee by 25 percent, saying they are losing money to foreign Internet services like Viber that provide free calling and texting.
But lawyer Nguyen Van Hau, vice chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association, said the move seems to be about "collusion rather than competition."
"The increase is totally monopolistic as customers will have no other choice if they want to stop using those providers," Hau told Tuoi Tre.
Each company has raised the price of its monthly 3G package by VND10,000 starting April 1. The new fee is VND50,000, equal to prices from military-run Viettel, Tuoi Tre reported.
A source from one company said the price hike is to compensate for losses incurred when smartphone users make phone calls and send text messages with free-of-charge applications such as Viber, Wala, Zalo, Line, WeChat, WhatsApp, all of which run on Internet connections. But in Vietnam, it is more common for these applications to use 3G and not the Internet as 3G connections are more widespread here than wifi.
"The outbreak of those apps and the increase of people using smartphones in Vietnam have caused serious reductions to the revenues of mobile service providers," the company representative said, noting that they have to contribute a lot to the state budget while foreign providers of those apps do not.
A person from MobiFone said the apps are taking VND100 billion ($4.78 million) each month from the three major providers.
The Ministry of Information and Communications said in early 2012 that the country had more than 16 million 3G subscribers, with more than 99 percent of them users of Viettel, MobiFone and Vinaphone. But the number was said to have increased to 20 million by the end of the year, according to global market intelligence firm IDC.
Most subscribers use the monthly 3G package, which provides them unlimited use of the Internet at a fixed price.
Many users have objected to the new fees as "unreasonable."
A customer from Ho Chi Minh City, who asked to be identified only as H. T., said, "It makes absolutely no sense that the providers force users to take care of some income reductions they said were caused by over-the-top apps."
T. said the higher fee was unfair because the phone service in Vietnam is not good, and the connections have been highly unstable, or sometimes non-existent, recently.
Hoai Vu, another user from the city, said the companies should reduce prices instead of raising them during this time of commercial competition.
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