The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued a directive simplifying subscription to mobile content services, overriding its earlier directive which made in necessary for telecom operators to charge for services only on receiving the explicit consent of customers, in the form of a dual confirmation. The notification is applicable to subscription services bought either via Out Bound Dialers (OBD) and Hello Tunes or Caller Ring Back Tones (CRBT).

The TRAI had earlier mandated that customers need only be billed if they provide their consent to subscription of services by either calling a particular number, sending an SMS, or in writing, fax or email. Remember that Caller Tunes/CRBT are a key means of monetization of music in India, with struggling physical music sales, and one of the largest contributors to telecom operator VAS revenue.

According to the new directive,

1. In case of Out Bound Dialers, the following steps need to be followed:
Step 1: A pre-recorded call is made by service provider informing the customer about the value added service and the charges.
Step 2: The caller tunes are played and the customer is told through automated announcements to press relevant key(s) other than keys ‘*’(star) and ‘9’, to select his choice of the song
Step 3: The charges for the selected service is again announced and the customer is told to reconfirm subscription to the value added service by pressing ‘*’ (Star) key followed by ‘9’ key
Step 4: The subscription is confirmed through announcement
Step 5: The subscription is again acknowledged through SMS immediately after the confirmation, indicating charges and relevant details of the value added service such as monthly fixed charge, Ring Back Tune (RBT) download charge or its recurring charge, validity period of Ring Back Tune, and a toll free telephone number for un-subscribing the service through Interactive Voice Recorder (IVR) or voice or SMS
Step 6: In case the subscriber seeks to un-subscribe the value added service within twenty-four hours from the time of its activation on the ground that the subscription to such service was unintentional or accidental, the service provider shall un-subscribe such value added service and shall reimburse or credit to the customer’s account the charges.

2. In case of Caller Tunes/CRBT, namely the “Press * (star) to Copy Hello Tunes”, the following steps need to be followed:
Step 1: Pre-call announcement is made about the Caller Ring Back Tune (CRBT) or other value added service, as the case may be, and about the applicable charges for such service and the customer is prompted to press ‘*’(star) key and ‘9’ key.
Step 2: Subscription is acknowledged through SMS immediately, indicating therein the charges and relevant details of the value added service such as monthly fixed charge, download or recurring charge, validity period of Ring Back Tune, including toll free telephone number for un-subscribing through Interactive Voice Recorder (IVR) or voice or Short Message Service (SMS)
Step 3: In case the subscriber seeks to un-subscribe the value added service within twenty-four hours from the time of its activation on the ground that the subscription to such service was unintentional or accidental, the service provider shall un-subscribe such value added service and shall reimburse or credit to the customer’s account the charges.

Importantly, the service provider shall inform the subscriber through Interactive Voice Response (IVR) or voice or Short Message Service (SMS) at least three days before the due date of renewal of a subscribed value added service, the due date for renewal, the charges for renewal and the toll free telephone number for un-subscribing of such value added service.

Download the directive here.

Our Take: Good But Not Good Enough.

So it appears to be something of a rollback from the TRAI, but that was expected. However, things still aren’t as easy as they once were: instances of people accidentally subscribing to services and CRBT are likely to go down – you can’t really claim to “accidentally” press two specific keys to subscribe, can you?

Possibly the best of the provisions in this directive, which is clearly in consumer interest, is the opportunity for a consumer to unsubscribe from services within 24 hours, without charge. This might hurt impulse purchases that consumers might regret later, but it’s still better to be safe that sorry. I’m sure operators wouldn’t want a pre-paid subscriber choosing not to recharge or switching to another operator, just because she was incorrectly charged for a service she did not subscribe to.

What the directive does not deal with, however, is the issue of malpractice in content downloads. There have been instances where I have been randomly charged for downloading animation when I didn’t. Also, there appears to be a cleaner modus operandi in the metros among VAS companies, and a different one outside. As I have mentioned in the past, there was a case where I accessed the WAP portal of a large handset manufacturer, and clicked on a banner, and was taken to a landing page, with details of pricing etc for the game, while Preethi clicked on the same banner from Lucknow, and billed immediately for the game, without even a download. Different rules for Delhi and Mumbai, different rules for outside.

There is clearly a need for the TRAI to step in and address the issue of content downloads as well. Question is, once you’ve downloaded the content, how do you know which were genuine and which werent? Surely, you can’t “return” downloaded content, they way you can unsubscribe to services. Perhaps there needs to be a more stringent process for downloading content, in order to protect consumer interest.

Related:

— On TRAIs Directive Limiting Content Subscriptions; A Case For Licensing VAS In India
TRAI Fails To Deliver On Mobile VAS Promise: Drops Key Provisions
— TRAI Suggests Common Short Codes Plan, Telecom Operator Integration Mandated
— TRAI Moots Concept Of “Other Service Provider” For Independent Services; Implications
TRAI Open House Discussion On Mobile VAS – Off-Deck vs On Deck, Licensing, Interconnection , Dispute Resolution and Revenue Share Threshholds