Waiting to see market outcome, looking out for instances of misuse: COAI

After TRAI removed a clause that required telcos to charge minimum 50 paise to subscribers sending more than 100 SMS per day, industry body COAI on Tuesday said it will wait to see the outcome of the move on the market, and particularly watch out for instances of unregistered telemarketers misusing the provisions.

Sector regulator TRAI, last week, did away with a specific clause that mandated telecom operators to charge at least 50 paise per SMS for text messages exceeding 100 on a single connection per day.

This means operators will have a free hand in fixing charges for such bulk SMS by genuine non-commercial users, and Trai”s practice of forbearance will extend to such messages too.

When contacted, Cellular Operators” Association of India (COAI) Director General Rajan Mathews told PTI, “We will have to wait and see what happens vis-a-vis customers, whether this leads to floodgates of people misusing it to call customers, we will have to see how this is going to play out, but clearly we were not in favour of it.”

COAI has previously argued that the provision of higher charges for SMS beyond a fixed threshold for a single day and connection acted as a “deterrent for people who sometimes want to game the system and come in as unregistered telemarketers.”

“We said please keep it in place to see if your (TRAI”s) belief that there is no particular need for it because TCCCPR 2018 (Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations 2018) that deals with Unsolicited Commercial Communications itself has adequate safeguards to address the issue, is valid,” Mathews said.

“…We had said keep it in place for a little more while, watch it and if the new system is able to stop unregistered telemarketers, then they can remove these provisions on tariffs for bulk messages,” he said, adding that TRAI, however, has decided to do away with the clause.

The association has not heard from the operators if they intend to adopt any pricing strategy to deter such messages, Mathews said.

“We will wait to see what the outcome of this is, since it (clause) has been removed, we have to wait and see what the resultant impact on the marketplace is. Our concern which we expressed to the regulator is that it could lead to misuse by telemarketers. So we have to wait and see, if that now happens,” Mathews said.

The regulator”s amendment, removing the specific provision in the telecom tariff order, came after an elaborate consultation process that saw the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) organising its first-ever Open House Discussion (OHD) entirely through videoconferencing mode to seek stakeholders” response after a round of comments and counter-comments.

“Schedule XIII of the Telecommunication Tariff Order 1999 made it obligatory for telecom service providers to charge a minimum of 50 paise per SMS for every SMS exceeding 100 SMSes per SIM per day,” the sectoral watchdog has said last week.

“The deletion of Schedule XIII thus implies another step of TRAI in doing away of the tariff regulation and strengthening the regime of tariff forbearance,” it added.

The specific provision for higher charges over and above a certain threshold for daily SMS had been introduced in the Telecom Tariff Order in 2012 and was meant to serve as an additional safeguard to curb the menance of Unsolicited Commercial Communications or pesky telemarketing calls.

In 2018, a new stronger technology driven framework was prescribed by TRAI for dealing with pesky calls.

“Considering the comprehensiveness of TCCCPR 2018 (Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations) in dealing with the menace of Unsolicited Commercial Communications, it was felt that tariff regulation which has the potential of adversely affecting the interests of genuine non-commercial bulk users of SMS is no longer required and therefore can be removed,” TRAI had said. PTI MBI RVK

—Outlook India

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