Regulator not satisfied with telcos’ measures on validity extension

By: |
April 15, 2020 2:30 AM

Trai on March 29 had asked all the telecom operators to extend the validity of talk time of their pre-paid subscribers so that they continue to get uninterrupted services.

The telcos have also been asked to provide information about the number of prepaid subscribers whose prepaid balance got exhausted and were not recharged during February 1 to February 29.The telcos have also been asked to provide information about the number of prepaid subscribers whose prepaid balance got exhausted and were not recharged during February 1 to February 29.

Not satisfied with telecom operators’ measures to extend validity of prepaid subscribers, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has written another letter to all companies seeking additional details, like the number of users who have been provided with additional talk-time, validity, etc. The regulator also did not appreciate industry body COAI’s response on the matter as operators were asked individually to reply.

Trai on April 7 had written a similar worded letter to all telcos “to take immediate steps to ensure that all prepaid subscribers can enjoy uninterrupted services during the period of lockdown”. The telcos were asked to submit compliance immediately. But COAI replied to the regulator on behalf of its members, stating that benefits worth Rs 600 crore had been provided to subscribers and if the regulator wants more, subsidy from the USO fund should be used for it.

The regulator, however, is not satisfied with the response of telcos and has asked for additional details in 24 hours. Trai has sought information about the number of prepaid subscribers whose balance got exhausted and was not recharged by subscribers on their own (between midnight of March 24 till midnight of April 13). The telcos have to also provide the percentage of such subscribers in terms of total number of prepaid subscribers as on March 24.

“…number of prepaid subscribers whose prepaid balance got exhausted but were provided for top-up of Rs 10 or more by the TSP or credited by additional minutes for voice calls, between midnight of March 24 to midnight of April 13. You are also required to provide percentage of such subscribers in terms of total number of prepaid subscribers as on March 24,” Trai said in the letter, a copy of which has been seen by FE. The letter has been sent to all —Vodafone Idea, Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, BSNL and MTNL.

The telcos have also been asked to provide information about the number of prepaid subscribers whose prepaid balance got exhausted and were not recharged during February 1 to February 29. After getting the information, the regulator will decide the next course of action as the lockdown has been further extended to May 3.

FE had earlier reported that since the extension of validity by the telecom operators during the lockdown does not cover the entire 2G user base, it was causing problems to a section of customers. Roughly, of the total 500 million 2G users, around 200 million have been left out of this facility.

Trai on March 29 had asked all the telecom operators to extend the validity of talk-time of their pre-paid subscribers so that they continue to get uninterrupted services. Based on the direction, telecom operators like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio last week extended the validity of pre-paid users till April 17 and credited an additional Rs 10 talk time in their accounts; it was done on a selective basis.

For instance, Bharti extended this facility to only its 80 million users, against its roughly 189 million 2G users. Similarly, Vodafone Idea has extended the facility to its 100 million users, against its 214 million 2G users. The operators seem to have extended this facility to only the bottom-of-the-pyramid users in the 2G category, who may be recharging for very small amounts like Rs 35-45 per month and excluded others. The assumption must have been that the bottom-of-the-pyramid customers do not have access to online modes of recharge and use physical retail stores.

Jio has done the extension for its 70-80 million JioPhone users. BSNL and MTNL though have covered their entire pre-paid user base in the extension facility. The operators had also informed Trai about the steps they have taken for prepaid customers.

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