TRAI Directive: Airtel, BSNL, MTNL extend talk-time of stranded low-end users

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Published: March 31, 2020 12:50:06 AM

Industry sources said that operators in the last couple of days have been informing their subscribers through their customer care services about the validity of their plan and means by which they can recharge it.

Around 95% of the country's nearly 1 billion mobile subscriber base is in the pre-paid segment and of this around half would be 2G users who use feature phones.The development came after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India earlier 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.

Bharti Airtel, BSNL and MTNL on Monday extended the validity period of a section of their pre-paid 2G subscribers so that they can continue to get uninterrupted services during the lockdown.

While Bharti Airtel extended the talk-time for over 80 million of its low-income subscribers till April 17, the two state-owned service providers extended the validity till April 20. The three companies also said that they will be crediting an additional Rs 10 of talk-time in the pre-paid account of these users.

The development came after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India earlier 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.

Around 95% of the country’s 1 billion mobile subscriber base is in the pre-paid segment and of this around half would be 2G users who use feature phones. It is this category of users who recharge their pre-paid plans through offline mode by going to the retailers. There are around 500 million smartphones in the country and their users are on the 4G network who recharge through online mode and are not affected by the lockdown.

While Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel have sizeable 2G users, even Reliance Jio, which otherwise has full 4G network and users, has low-end users on its JioPhone where recharges are done through retailers.

Industry sources said that operators in the last couple of days have been informing their subscribers through their customer care services about the validity of their plan and means by which they can recharge it. For instance, Jio has a service whereby recharge can be done at the ATMs of SBI, ICICI, and HDFC banks.

“Now @BSNLCorporate & @MTNLOfficial will extend validity period of their pre-paid mobiles up to April 20, 2020 & provide Rs 10 of additional talk time even after zero balance. This will enable poor people make calls for help even if they don’t have any balance left,” communications and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad tweeted on Monday.

In the past during natural calamities, operators have extended free talk-time to their subscribers.

“…you are required to take necessary steps as deemed fit including extending the validity period to ensure that all pre-paid subscribers can enjoy uninterrupted services during the period of lockdown,” Trai said in a communication to all operators. It added, “Though the telecommunication services have been considered as essential services and thus granted an exception from closing down… However, lockdown may adversely affect the working of customer service centres/point of sale locations,” Trai said. The regulator wrote: “Under the circumstances, it is quite possible that those subscribers who wish to top up their pre-paid balances or wish to extend subscription to a pre-paid tariff using offline channels may face hardships and/or disruption of services”.

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