In a move to address issues related to billing and overcharging by international SIM cards and global calling cards companies, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released its recommendations on the sale/rent of international roaming SIM cards/global calling cards in India.
International SIM cards and global calling cards enable mobile users to avail of the services outside the country without having to pay premium roaming rates. Currently, service providers in India are required to take a no objection certificate (NOC) from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for the issue of these cards.
Till now, TRAI had not been monitoring these services as the associated firms do not fall under the ambit of the TRAI Act, 1997. However, in the interest of consumers, TRAI, in May 2015, sought information from the companies related to transparency in their offers, services and consumer grievance-redressal mechanisms. After analysis, TRAI has made suo motu recommendations to the government to regulate the functioning of international cards.
Based on the companies’ responses, TRAI observed that some service providers do not publish the tariffs on their websites. Moreover, it found no uniformity in the procedure to resolve consumers’ grievances. Accordingly, TRAI has recommended that the tariff plan along with the terms and conditions, and contact details in India and the visiting country should be provided at the time of the SIM handover to the customer. Further, all applicable tariff rates should be available on the company’s website. Customer care services should be developed and offered preferably free of charge or at a nominal charge (not more than the applicable local call charges) and there should be transparent information regarding the same. Upon reaching the destination country, the consumer should be provided toll free customer care service by the foreign partner with whom the Indian NOC holder has a commercial agreement.
TRAI further noted that there is no uniformity in billing procedures as each firm has its own mechanism. While some operators issue hard copies of bills, some provide online access to customer accounts. Moreover, only a few provide itemised bills to the customers. TRAI has therefore recommended that the post-paid customer be issued an itemised bill for chargeable or bundled free usage service in hard copy or electronic form, which shall clearly bring out information related to date, time, pulse and actual rate of outgoing/incoming calls and date, time and actual rate of SMS and data usage. Meanwhile, in case of prepaid customers, such details shall be provided on request for a pre-determined reasonable fee.
Further, upon analysing consumer complaints, the regulator noticed that most of them were centred around data services where the customer had been billed for data usage even though they denied having used the same. The complainants also mentioned late billing (around 45 days after the completion of journey), non-intimation of tariff plan before the commencement of journey, exorbitant charges for accessing data services, etc. Thus, TRAI has recommended that the itemised bill be provided within 10 days of the date of culmination of the journey. If the journey is undertaken for a period of over 30 days, then the itemised bill should be generated in a 30-day cycle from the date of the commencement of journey and provided to the customer within 10 days. Further, the customer should have the option to choose a data service or a voice service or a combination of both. Meanwhile, for a post-paid connection, there should be a credit limit, which should be fixed as per the customer’s requirement and he/she should be transparently informed of it. Moreover, the customer should be informed through SMS/USSD message upon reaching 70 per cent of the credit limit. If the credit limit is breached, services should be barred till the time the customer deposits the necessary amount with the operator. The billing and consumer redressal mechanism of the NOC holder should be strengthened to enable time-bound resolution of the billing grievance by the operator within a period of 30 days.
Global SIM cards/country-specific SIM cards are purchased or rented by customers who need to travel outside India for short durations. These cards are normally purchased/rented just before embarking on a journey. It is therefore imperative that steps are taken to protect the interests of such customers. In this regard, the government should seriously consider adopting the recommendations by TRAI. The former should also modify the terms and conditions of the NOC to make companies providing global or country-specific SIM cards answerable to TRAI.
By Puneet Kumar Arora