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.
Sectoral regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has pulled up mobile operators for selectively picking prepaid customers for extension of validity, leading to many such users being without connectivity as they did not get the benefit. In similarly worded letters to operators including Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio, Trai has asked the telcos to “take immediate steps to ensure that all prepaid subscribers can enjoy uninterrupted services during the period of lockdown”.
FE had reported on Monday that since the extension of validity by the telecom operators during the lockdown does not cover the entire 2G user base, it was causing problem to a section of customers. Roughly, of the total 500 million 2G users, around 200 million have got left out of this facility.
“The Authority is in receipt of your response…and taking cognizance of related media reports, it is observed that Vodafone Idea has followed a selective approach in giving relaxation to the subscribers in extending the validity and giving credit of Rs 10 to each subscriber and as a result all the 2G subscribers are not covered and are facing hardships in absence of any recharge facilities,” Trai said in a letter to Vodafone Idea, a copy of which has been seen by FE. A similar letter was written to Bharti Airtel.
In its letter to Jio, Trai said Reliance Jio has extended the validity of all non-smartphone users till April 17, the relief of crediting 100 minutes of calls and SMS is being made only for those subscribers whose validity has expired and those subscribers who have reached a zero balance but have not yet reached the validity expiry will be denied the relief, thereby limiting their ability to make off-net calls and send SMS.
All the companies have been asked to send a report immediately containing the responses and details of the steps taken to ensure availability of uninterrupted telecom services. Several pre-paid 2G users FE had spoken to had said their validity has expired and they are unable to recharge as physical retail outlets are shut.
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.