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India’s telecom regulator TRAI has lowered the ceiling tariff for outgoing USSD based “mobile banking and payment services”, that is, those USSD transactions which have been initiated by the user, to Rs 0.50 per session (PDF). This is being reduced from the existing fee of Rs 1.50 per USSD session. The regulator said that charges were lowered after it found subscribers making only 37 lakh mobile banking transaction over USSD since its roll out in November 2013. Out of these transactions, only 54% were successful, added TRAI.

Charges are waived off until December 31st

This move comes at a time when charges for mobile baking services have apparently been waived off till December 31st 2016. The Minister of State for Telecommunications mentioned in a tweet that “telecom operators have decided to waive off charges for mobile banking services till 31st December 2016.” As of now, only Bharti Airtel has confirmed this in a statement issued to the press. This comes after the Indian government recently demonetized higher valued currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes.

The regulatory route to lowering of USSD charges

The new regulation comes after TRAI received recommendations from the Reserve Bank of India and the Department of Financial Services to:
– Permit up-to 8 steps in one USSD session from the current limit of 5
– Increase the session timer limitation
– Reduce the ceiling tariff of Rs. 1.50 per USSD session to a lower rate
– Enable USSD-based push messages for dropped or failed USSD sessions
– Make provisions for a unified USSD platform-which can support transactions across all payment mechanism.

Subsequently, TRAI initiated consultation paper with these suggestion in August, and based on the comments received from stakeholders including banks, financial institutions and telcos, the regulator has considered passing only three of the above recommendations:

  1. Increased maximum number of stages for completing a USSD-based mobile banking transaction from 5 to 8.
  2. Lowered the ceiling tariff to Rs 0.50 paise per USSD session, which will be borne by the subscriber.
  3. Added USSD based support for online payments of services such as electricity, water, gas, telephone and Direct-to-Home (DTH), etc.