The telecom regulator has directed telcos to offer pre-paid subscribers at least one plan voucher, one special tariff voucher and one combo voucher that will be renewable on the same date every month. This means that pre-paid subscribers can avail themselves of a post-paid-like billing cycle, where the bill is generated every month, irrespective of the number of days in the month.
Operators must also offer at least one plan voucher, one special tariff voucher and one combo voucher with a validity of 30 days. The Telecom Regulatory authority of India (Trai) has given operators 60 days to make the necessary modifications to their billing systems.
Currently, most pre-paid tariff packs come with a pre-defined validity period of 28/56/84 days, but the regulator has received complaints regarding the 28-day validity pack, which is touted as a monthly pack. Customers have highlighted that with 28-day validity pack, which is the most prominent tariff plan, they need to do 13 recharges in a year. If the recharge is allowed on a monthly basis, only 12 recharges need to be made in a year. For post-paid tariffs, the billing cycle works on a monthly basis, irrespective of the number of days in a month.
Operators claim it is not feasible to offer a monthly validity pre-paid pack, saying there needs to be clarity and objectivity in the duration for which the services are to be given. Since the number of days in a month may vary, it should not be the basis for charges for prepaid services.
Telcos have also highlighted to Trai that unlike in the case of post-paid services, where the concept of a fixed billing cycle, on a monthly basis, is followed, pre-paid services resume from the date of recharge and follow the validity period of tariff expressed in terms of number of days rather than a fixed monthly billing period. Even in case a 30-day tariff offering is mandated, customers will have to recharge more than once in months having 31 days.
Drawing examples from international practices, Trai said Vodafone UK offers ‘pay as you go’ tariffs for a validity of 30 days and another UK telco O2 provides ‘pay as you go’ tariffs for the duration of a month. Verizon USA also follows a monthly system for charging its prepaid services and clarifies in very specific terms that “monthly prepaid plans renew on the same date every month, regardless of how many days there are in the month”.
“Since the availability of pre-paid tariffs, rechargeable on same date of every month, is in vogue internationally, there is no reason why such a facility should not be made available to Indian telecom consumers as well,” Trai has observed.