After a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, several companies providing communications services have offered free or discounted service for calls made into and out of the country. Two of the most prominent names on the list are Skype and Viber.
Aircel, a wireless provider based in India, announced that calls from India to Nepal on its service would be free April 27th and 28th. Some incoming call charges to customers while roaming would also be waived.
BSNL and MTNL, both fixed and mobile telecoms owned by the government of India, had announced that all charges would be reduced to local rates for calls made through its network for a three-day period following the quake. Although those periods have expired, both telecoms have made unlimited free calling at night available as a general policy for all customers. BSNL customers calling between 9PM and 7AM, and MTNL customers calling between 10PM and 7AM, will get the free rates.
VoIP providers are also stepping up. Both Skype and Viber announced recently that they too would provide free service. On its Big Blog, Skype announced that all calls to landline and mobile numbers in and out of Nepal would be free of charge. Viber announced on its Facebook page that inbound and outbound calls to and from Nepal using Viber Out would also be free. Neither source specifies a date when billing will return to normal rates.
A recent report from the government of Nepal states that over 6,000 people have died and nearly 14,000 others have been injured from the quake. Hundreds of thousands of homes and buildings have been damaged or destroyed.
It’s anecdotal evidence, but a glance at Viber’s Facebook page shows a mix of gratitude for the free call offer mixed with statements about being unable to connect. The cynical among us might say that it’s easy to make a generous offer that few people can use in a quake-ravaged area. On the other hand, some people, if you believe their Facebook posts, were able to get through and reach family and loved ones.
Many of these calls that got through would not have been possible without the free or discounted service these communications companies offered. The piece of mind that these people have by connecting with loved ones after a disaster is worth way more than the cost of the service that made such a connection possible—in fact, you can’t put a value on it. It’s beyond laudable what these and other companies have done in a time of need.