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Corporate Jan 14, 2013

Your telco can't charge for services without your explicit nod

By Sindhu Bhattacharya

New Delhi: If your mobile phone operator has surreptitiously begun charging you for a value-added service such as downloading music, mobile banking, etc, without informing you in advance, the operator may face trouble from next month onwards.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has already given directions to operators to desist from providing any chargeable service without customer consent and now the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal has directed telecom operators to comply with this directive by 2 February.

Your telecom operator must also provide you a toll-free number where you can complain and get rid of unwanted VAS services. AFP

The operator must first take permission from you to charge for a service (anything except voice calls) through SMS, e-mail, fax or in writing within 24 hours of the activation of such a service (which is called VAS). It must also seek your consent if it is raising charges of any service which you already pay for.

What's more, your telecom operator must also provide you a toll-free number where you can complain and get rid of unwanted VAS services. A senior Trai official said today that any such service, if deactivated within 24 hours, will not cost the consumer a penny.

Yet another important issue is being examined by Trai, which said today that it may finalise recommendations for deactivating services of inactive mobile phone connections by March. In simple terms, this refers to mobile SIM cards which are not being used - as often happens with people who take multiple SIM cards.

"In normal course, it (recommendations) should take one-and-a-half-months more from now," Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) Secretary Rajeev Agrawal said.

Last month, Trai had initiated a debate on the issue of operators arbitrarily disconnecting services of customers on grounds of 'non-usage of numbers' or 'inactive SIMconnections', without adequate notice. This was affecting even those consumers who did not use their connections for some time but wanted to get back and found the service disconnected.

"Deactivation of a SIM without prior intimation and on arbitrary grounds deprives the subscriber of his mobile number which might have been an identity for him for a long time," Trai had said in its consultation paper titled 'Deactivation of SIMs due to non-usage'.

Consumers suffer from a potential loss of activity in both personal and professional set-ups, causing an adverse impact on livelihood, it had added.

According to an agency copy which quoted information provided by telecom firms to the regulator, around 20 crore SIMs have been inactive for over a certain period of time and the total balance on that account is Rs 128.9 crore.

In their meetings with Trai officials, telecom operators have pointed out that they are forced to deactivate SIMs which are not being used to be able to efficiently manage the number series (mobile phone numbers) allocated to them by the Department of Telecom.

The last date for submitting written comments on the issues raised in the consultation paper was 21 December 2012, while that for receiving counter comments was 28 December 2012.

Meanwhile, on the issue of pesky calls too, the regulator has taken some steps like capping the number of SMSes one can send using the same mobile number at 100 per day. Agrawal said if the number of SMSes exceed this cap, the rate goes beyond 50 paise per SMS, making the entire proposition unviable for any telemarketer. But he admitted that the pesky call menace has not been removed entirely and that Trai is watching the situation closely.

by Sindhu Bhattacharya

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