We missed this earlier: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on June 3 passed the Telecom Tariff (65th Amendment) Order, 2020, removing a regulation that required telcos to charge customers for sending more than 100 SMS messages per day. Telecom operators had opposed this change, arguing that low SMS pricing could result in an increase in spam messages from unregistered telemarketers.
The Railways pushed for this change at an online open house discussion on this subject held by TRAI in May. When Railways employees were using Airtel, the telco wouldn’t charge them per SMS when they were sending bulk SMS messages between employees. But after Jio got the Railways contract, it charged them 50 paise per SMS beyond the first hundred texts as required by the TRAI regulation. It’s unclear why Airtel and Jio behaved differently here. We have reached out to COAI, Airtel, Jio, and Vodafone–Idea Limited for comment on this development.
TRAI: Telcos can still charge for SMS for retail users
Telcos uniformly pushed back against lifting the limit, arguing in the open house discussion in May (as in filings: COAI, Jio, Airtel, Vodafone–Idea, BSNL) that it would lead to an explosion in SMS messages from unregistered telemarketers, who would be able to simply pick up a retail connection and send several messages before being caught. TRAI chairperson R.S. Sharma seemed less than convinced with this argument. “Is there any regulation which prescribes that you can’t charge money for SMSes beyond a certain number of texts?”, he asked. “In my view that doesn’t exist because nobody is preventing you from charging money after 100 SMSes. Tariffs are all under forbearance, you can charge what you want to charge,” he said.
Sharma was essentially pointing out that even after the 100 SMS limitation was lifted, telcos wouldn’t be required to provide SMS services for free to customers beyond that limit, and even before the amendment were within their rights to charge for texts beyond, say 20 messages.
But telcos disputed that reasoning, saying that even if one competitor relaxed limits on texts, others would be forced to follow. “Once other telecom service providers start charging below 50 paise for SMSes beyond the limit, we are compelled to follow that,” a Jio representative said on the call. Sharma shot back, “You are competing in the market. The 100 SMS rule is not a minimum support price. You want to come into that category of industries with MSP or what? Why do you want to have vestiges of the archaic rules in existence when you have the freedom? Why ask TRAI to prevent you from having a free market?”