cmn_telecom-operators

The Indian telecom regulator TRAI has set up guidelines for how telecom operators can activate mobile Internet services for consumers, apparently put limitations on auto renewal, and indicated that telecom operators have to provide consumers with data consumption information as per intervals specified by the TRAI.

Why has the TRAI done this? They’ve received complaints covering some fairly important malpractices from telecom operators, which have historically been the masters of deducting money from a consumers wallet (often without consent). Complaints that the TRAI has received include:

1. Bill shock because telecom operators do not inform consumers of amount of data consumed in a session, especially when concessional tariff is offered up to a certain limit, after which consumers are pushed to much higher priced plans for data usage. The TRAI agrees that rates beyond the rate for the tariff voucher is higher, and leads to bill shot or unexpected deduction of balance amount.

2. Activation of internet services on mobile phones without consent and deduction of charges for data usage.

The TRAI has told Telecom Operators that they must, by 1st November 2015:
1. Information regarding data used after every 10 MB, via SMS or USSD, except users of special data packs (STV/Combo/add-on-pack). Consumers can opt out of these updates.

MediaNama’s take: USSD is the worst possible option here because consumers will not be able to keep track of it, but this is tricky since multiple SMS’ can become irritating. Perhaps the TRAI should have considered SMS’ every 20 or 25 MB. Keep in mind that the average data usage per customer for Airtel in the quarter ended March 2015 is 656 MB, and for Idea was 599 MB (for June 2015). More in our Mobile Internet in India report.

2. Information about reaching 50%, 90% and 100% of data offered in a special data pack (STV/Combo/add-on-pack), or when the data balance available in the account of the subscriber reaches 500 MB, 100 MB and 10 MB. More importantly, the consumer shall be informed about the details of tariff applicable after exhausting the data limit, after 90%, or when the data balance reaches 10 MB.

MediaNama’s take: this is important, though we think the better option would have been to also ensure that consumer consent is taken when a special tariff voucher is exhausted.

3. An alert to international roaming customers cautioning him to deactivate data service if he does not intend to use data services.

MediaNama’s take: I’ve noticed this with my international travel: at times even though I’ve switched data off, I’ve found that the mobile data gets switched on automatically. Can’t really explain how this happens, but it’s happened twice for me. I’ve now started keeping the phone switched off or SIM out.

Also, the TRAI has given specific directions on activation and deactivation of data services:

1. Data services should be activated only with the explicit consent of the subscriber through a toll free short code 1925. The data services could also be deactivated through the toll free short code 1925.
2. Data services through Special Tariff Voucher or Combo Voucher or add-on pack will be deemed to have been activated with consent till the expiry of the validity period of the voucher/pack or on the consumption of entire data, whichever is earlier.
3. The customers should also be informed through SMS at periodic intervals about the prescribed procedure for deactivation of data.

Our take: Point number 2, above, actually addresses a major issue of auto renewal of data packs, which have been leveraged by companies like Airtel to charge consumers more, without explicit consent, and limited to the end of the billing cycle. In other words, if you’re on a 1 GB/month plan, and you use up all the data with 2 days in the month remaining: Airtel will give you another 1GB, though this time only for two days, with a fresh billing cycle next month. More in our criticism of auto renewal here, and what we think should have been done, here.

This is against consumer interest, and it appears that the TRAI recommendation suggests that the activation with consent is only till the expiry of the validity of the voucher/pack or consumption of data. So, no auto renewal, because a renewal will also require explicit consumer consent.

Note that the TRAI has not indicated whether it has fined any telecom operators for cheating consumers, especially for activating mobile Internet and deducting money without consent, which is, quite frankly, fraud, and takes us back to the days of Mobile VAS fraud.

The complete note, in full:

TRAI Releases Telecom Consumers Protection (Eighth Amendment) Regulations, 2015

TRAI today issued the “Telecom Consumers Protection (Eighth Amendment) Regulations, 2015” to protect the interest of consumers using wireless data service.

TRAI has been receiving several complaints from consumers regarding non-availability of information relating to the amount of data used during a data session. The service providers offer concessional tariff for data, up to a certain limit, through Special Tariff Vouchers or Combo Vouchers (data packs), add on packs and also through certain tariff plans. The tariff for any usage beyond the specified limit is substantially higher. Therefore if the customer unknowingly exceed the limit for concessional tariff, it results in substantial charges being levied, leading to sudden bill shock or unexpected deduction of balance amount. The consumers have also voiced their concern about activation of internet service on mobile phones without their consent and deduction of charges for data usage. For addressing these concerns of the customers, TRAI proposed certain measures for public consultation through the draft Telecom Consumers Protection (Eighth Amendment) Regulations, 2015 issued on 29th April, 2015. Comments of stakeholders were sought up to 26.05.2015. Keeping in view the comments received during this consultation process and discussions with the service providers and their industry associations, TRAI today issued the Telecom Consumers Protection (Eighth Amendment) Regulations, 2015, the salient features of which are given below:-
i) Information to consumers relating to usage of data: Service providers have been mandated to provide, through SMS or USSD—
(a)Information to mobile data users regarding data used, after every 10MB of data usage to all mobile data users except users of special data packs (STV/Combo/add-on-pack). The consumers to be provided an option to opt out if they do not desire to receive such information.

(b) Information to users of various of special data packs (STV/Combo/add-on-pack), whenever the limit of data usage reaches 50%, 90% and 100% of data available in the account of the subscriber or when the data balance available in the account of the subscriber reaches 500 MB, 100 MB and 10 MB. Further the consumer shall be informed about the details of tariff applicable after exhausting the data limit, when the data limit reaches 90% or the data balance available in the account reaches 10 MB.

(c) An alert to international roaming customer cautioning him to deactivate data service if he does not intend to use data services.

The service providers’ have been given time till 1st November 2015 for implementation.

ii) Activation or Deactivation of data services:
(a) Data services should be activated only with the explicit consent of the subscriber through a toll free short code 1925. The data services could also be deactivated through the toll free short code 1925.

(b) Data services through Special Tariff Voucher or Combo Voucher or add-on pack will be deemed to have been activated with consent till the expiry of the validity period of the voucher/pack or on the consumption of entire data, whichever is earlier.

(c) The customers should also be informed through SMS at periodic intervals about the prescribed procedure for deactivation of data.