There was a difference of opinion between Google and the telecoms operator community on the thorny issue of customer ownership at CommunicAsia on Tuesday.
"We still believe the end users belong to telcos," said Judi Achmadi, VP service strategy and tariff at Indonesia's PT Telkom, during a discussion about the issues facing telecoms operators at present, including the threat from over-the-top (OTT) players.
Sitting to his left, Sergio Salvador, head of strategic partnerships Southeast Asia at Google, did not agree.
"The whole discussion on who owns the customer is a moot point. The customer owns himself, or herself," he said.
And Salvador went on to encourage cooperation between Internet and content companies and network operators to provide what customers want in a mutually beneficial way.
"The different players in the ecosystem… must work together… so we can all benefit together," he said. Google has been criticized for disrupting the telecoms business, but "we can find ways of ensuring that everyone benefits from it," he added.
The idea of working together resonated with PT Telkom's Achmadi, although he insisted that because of their billing relationship with the customers, the telcos can still claim customer ownership.
Telkom has 170 million customers, he said. "To monetize that [customer base] I think we need Google to work with us," he admitted. "[But] right now our strategy is only one: how to reduce churn."
Meanwhile, Benjamin Tan, managing director at Singapore ISP SuperInternet, pointed out that as services become more affordable, some customers have a billing relationship with more than one telco.
"[In Singapore] some higher-value end users are willing to have two operators serving their account," in order to access different content, he said. "A single operator may not be able to own their customer at all because of the lower local loop prices," he said.