The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued a directive to all telecom service providers asking them to refrain from misleading tariff advertisements so that subscribers can choose services and tariff plans, without being lured by attractive options that come with a fine print.

Besides asking telcos to disclose all material information clearly in their ads,the regulatory body has also asked them to publish a URL to their website and customer care numbers. The same should be published in a vernacular language if the ad is in that particular language. They’ve also been asked to maintain an advertisement register to file specimens of all tariff related ads and to carry out internal audits to ensure compliance.

the TRAI has said that every advertisement published by a telco should be transparent and non- misleading and the design, including paper size, color, font type and font size, tone and volume of the advertisement should be legible, audible and unambiguous. The tariff advertisements should disclose all material information which is likely to influence the decision of a subscriber in an unambiguous manner. The directives apply to all tariff advertisements, issued through any medium including printed media, pamphlets, radio, television, internet, e-mails and any other audio-visual electronic media.

This is a welcome move since subscribers are often lured by telcos promising attractive tariffs with fine prints, that they do not convey to the subscribers in a transparent manner.

So What qualifies as misleading?

According to the TRAI, a tariff ad is misleading if:

– If it influences a customer to subscribe to a tariff plan which he would not have subscribed otherwise.

– If it contains an untrue statement

– If it excludes a material fact that could have influenced the subscriber’s decision to choose a plan

– If the ad does not disclose limitations and restrictions related to the plan

The TRAI has illustrated it with some examples:

1. The most significant instance that the TRAI has illustrated is the use of the word ‘unlimited’. It has said that if a plan is termed as unlimited, putting a fair usage or daily/monthly limit, would be misleading. Although the TRAI has not cited broadband plans or data plans, we feel that the same should also apply to ISPs who’ve been unfairly imposing fair usage caps on unlimited plans in terms of data caps or speed throttling. They should refrain from using the term unlimited if it’s not pure unlimited.

2. If a telco advertises the per second or per minute rate when the pulse rate is higher than that. So, according to the TRAI, if the call rate is 1paise/2 seconds, the company should not advertise it as 1/2 paise/second.

3. Telcos advertise plans as rent free or zero rental even though they levy a fixed monthly charge.

4. Telcos advertise only on-net call or SMS rates as if they’re universal. For example if a call rate of 20p/minute is applicable for calls within the same network, the telcos advertise call rates as 20p/min without mention of the on-net aspect.

5. If there’s an initial charge for the first minute of a call rate or the first SMS, and then a reduced charge for successive ones, telcos should not advertise the reduced charge. For example if under a plan the first minute is charged at Rs 5 and the successive ones at Rs 1, the company should not advertise the call rate as Rs 1/minute.

6. Advertising a plan which is only applicable at a certain time, for example night only plans.

7. Advertising a per second plan if it’s only valid for a fixed period of time, for example one year, following which it will return to per minute.

8. Advertising a plan that is applicable only on payment of a recurring charge or a special voucher.