TRAI proposes penalizing operators for MNP delays, removing processing charges

In its first major move after former commerce secretary Rahul Khullar took over as TRAI chief, the regulator has proposed tightening the penalties for mobile operators who flout number portability (MNP) rules and subscribers who send commercial SMSes and calls.

It also suggested doing away with the so-called ‘processing fee’ on recharge coupons, thus enabling consumers to get ‘full taktime’ on all recharges.

Echoing a concern that subscribers across the country have, TRAI said many operators have been reported to be preventing their subscribers from moving out of their networks giving frivolous reasons.

Operators have prevented customers from moving out of their networks giving reasons such as ‘unclear’ handwriting in application forms, technical problems with their servers, outstanding dues (despite the customer paying all dues) etc..

“In order to ensure compliance of MNP regulations by Access Providers, the Authority has decided to amend the regulations to incorporate provisions for levying financial disincentives where contravention is established in rejection of porting requests and also in the timelines specified in regulations,” TRAI said.

In another tough move, TRAI sought suggestions from the public on how to prevent real estate companies and others from buying normal SIM cards and sending hundreds and thousands of SMSes a day advertising their services.

The judiciary had earlier quashed TRAI’s earlier method of restricting the number of SMSes anyone can send to 200 per day.

TRAI has suggested that such unregistered telemarketers should be charged Rs 500 and their connections should be cut.

Consumers should be able to forward such spam messages to 1909, which will then be considered a complaint. A website should be opened for receiving such complaints.

In a separate consultation paper, TRAI suggested capping or abolishing the processing fee for talk time recharges. At present, telecom operators charge as much as 30% of the total value of a recharge coupon as processing charge.

For example, in case of a recharge of Rs 10, often just Rs 7 or so will be credited to the consumer’s talk-time, with the remaining going as processing fee.

It sought suggestions on whether there should be a limit of Rs 3 on processing fee, or multiple limits or simply a ban on such processing charges.

TRAI also asked if the time is right for removing the maximum limit that has been imposed on ‘premium’ messages and calls – such as those for participating in quiz shoes and voting programs. It suggested both bringing the upper limit down to Rs 3, and totally removing any such limits. At present operators often charge up to Rs 5 per SMS.