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In the back drop of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and department of telecommunications’ crackdown on call drops, India’s largest telecom operator Airtel has shifted all of its prepaid customers to per second billing plan.

In its consultation paper on call drops, TRAI mentions allegations by consumers who are on a per minute pulse that their calls got dropped before completion of the conversation and that they had to pay for a minute even though they only spoke for a second. The customer is then likely to re-attempt the call where they spend additional time in picking up the conversation from before. This would result in longer call duration and thereby greater call revenue to the telecom operator.

Information furnished by the telecom companies to TRAI for the quarter ended March 2015 showed that 71% of mobile consumers across India were on per-second billing. However, only 59% of the total outgoing voice usage happened on a per-second basis. TRAI concluded that about 41% of the total voice consumption happens on a per-minute-pulse in the country.

In June, telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had mentioned in a response to a query in the Lok Sabha that Airtel was the number one operator whose call drop complaints (31) flooded the TRAI this year (up to 30 June), followed by Vodafone (17) , Idea Cellular (10) and BSNL (10).

Airtel mentions that pre-paid customer’s standard base rate plans will be shifted to a pulse rate of per second, but they will have the freedom to opt for additional tariff discount packs of their choice for discounted per second or per minute benefits.

For the quarter ended June 2015, Airtel said in its quarterly report that 94.4% of its customer base was on prepaid plans in India. Airtel’s customer base for mobile services was 230.66 million.

TRAI’s recommendations for consumer protection

–  One option proposed by TRAI in its consultation paper to give relief to such consumers could be to mandate that any call which gets dropped within five seconds would not be charged. Further, it appears reasonable to mandate that, in case, a call gets dropped any time after five seconds, the last pulse of the call should not be included for the purpose of charging. Accordingly, this would mean:

(i) If a consumer is on a per-minute-pulse and his call gets dropped after 3 minutes and 45 seconds, call charges for only 3 minutes (and not 4 minutes) would be levied upon him; and

(ii) If a consumer is on a ‘2 second’ pulse and his call dropped after 31 seconds, call charges for only 30 seconds (and not 32 seconds) would be levied upon him, etc.

Image source: Flicr user Arti Sandhu