Holding your telecom operator accountable

RIGHTS OF TELECOM CONSUMERS

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Pic: TRAI

A few months back, Baiju P V, who owns a Vodafone postpaid connection, noticed that his monthly phone bill included charges for Value Added Services (VAS). “The charge was Rs 250 plus GST. I had neither requested any VAS, nor got any message informing me that VAS had been activated,” Baiju says.

As per regulations of TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India), VAS – which includes caller tunes, live streaming etc – can be activated only with the double consent (explained below) of the subscriber.

Baiju called Vodafone customer care and got the bill revised. But he was charged for VAS again the next month. “I again called customer care and spoke sternly. It was only then that they blocked VAS in my account. Unless you check the bill closely, you won’t even realise that they are adding these charges,” says Baiju.

Not surprisingly, the number of consumer complaints in the telecom sector is extremely high. For example, TRAI had received one crore complaints just between January and March 2016. As per a recent TRAI survey in Delhi, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh circles, most consumers were dissatisfied with operators’ services – customer satisfaction was only 50% of the TRAI benchmark.

Given that 94% of the country’s population now own phones – of whom 92% own mobile phones – consumer rights in the telecom sector needs to be emphasised. Here is a quick guide on the obligations of telecom operators/service providers, and what you can do in case of violations. 

Communication is mandated

As per TRAI regulations, operators are obligated to inform subscribers:

  • Prepaid subscribers should get an SMS or USSD on the amount deducted from their account, after every call and data session. Duration of usage, charges deducted and balance should be mentioned. But this isn’t necessary when subscriber is roaming outside service area.
  • Subscribers should get an SMS on the activation of a tariff plan or VAS, with details

Tariff plans

Once you enrol on a tariff plan, it should be available to you for at least the next six months. Operator can’t withdraw the plan within six months even if the plan is incurring losses. The subscriber is free to migrate to any tariff plan any time though. Tariff should be within the ceiling rates specified by TRAI

Disconnecting numbers not in use

The operator can deactivate your connection and allot your number to someone else if you don’t use it for 90 days. However, prepaid subscribers can extend their non-usage period further, 30 days at a time, by having the operator deduct Rs 20 from their account balance.

If you own a postpaid connection, you can get safe custody of your connection by paying Rs 150 for every three months.

A deactivated account can be reactivated within a grace period of 15 days of disconnection, by paying maximum of Rs 20

Activation of data and Value Added Services (VAS)

The operator can’t activate these without the subscriber’s explicit consent. To activate/deactivate data services, you can call the toll free number 1925, or SMS ‘START’ and ‘STOP’ to 1925 for activation and deactivation respectively.

Double consent is needed to activate a chargeable VAS. Once your request for a VAS has been received, the operator can activate it only after getting a confirmation from you by SMS, email fax or in writing within 24 hours.

If VAS is activated without your consent, you can get full refund. For this, you should inform the operator within six hours if the VAS is for a day, and within 24 hours if it is for a month. 

To renew your VAS too, the operator should inform you 24 hours before the due date of renewal. You can deactivate VAS by calling or messaging ‘STOP’ to 155223.

Credit limit for postpaid services

Consumers should be informed of their initial credit limit and the consequences of exceeding it, within seven days of service activation. Credit limit should also be mentioned in the monthly bill.

A subscriber should be informed when user-charges reach 80% of the credit limit. Service can be disrupted only if the user exceeds the credit limit, and if the amount due is more than the security deposit paid initially.

Stopping Unsolicited Commercial Communication (UCC)

If you want to stop marketing calls and messages, you can register at the National Customer Preference Register (NCPR) by contacting 1909. You can either stop all UCC by messaging ‘START<space>0’ to 1909, or you can opt for marketing communication on one or more of seven specified categories by calling 1909. UCC will then stop/change within the next seven days.

If you get any UCC even after seven days, you can register a complaint by calling 1909 or messaging in the format ‘<The UCC you received>, telephone number/header of UCC, dd/mm/yy’ to 1909. This should be done within three days of getting the UCC.

Once you register the complaint, you will get a unique complaint number and you will be informed of the action taken within seven days.

Alternatively, you can use TRAI’s ‘DND Services’ mobile app for all the above.

Tracking service quality

Install the MySpeed (TRAI) app that allows you to test the data speed of your connection. The app captures network coverage, data speed, location of the test etc, and you can send this data to TRAI anytime. However, sending the data to TRAI does not constitute a complaint; if your data speed is low, you should complain to the operator.

There is also a TRAI MyCALL app that allows you to rate one or more calls from your Call History; while rating, you can specify the problem with each call.

The crowdsourced data from both these apps will be used in TRAI’s Analytics Portal (analytics.trai.gov.in). On this site, you can check the data speed and call quality of each operator in different locations across the country. It can help you make decisions on which connection to subscribe to in a particular area, and can also push operators to improve their service quality.

Complaint redressal mechanism

TRAI does not resolve individual complaints, but has prescribed a mechanism for operators to resolve complaints. Subscribers can file complaints at the toll-free customer care number 198. Once you register the complaint, you will get an SMS with your unique docket number, along with the time limit for resolving the complaint.

This time limit is based on TRAI’s Quality of Service (QoS) parameters. For example, as per QoS parameters, the time limit for resolving a billing complaint is 4-6 weeks, while service termination should be done within seven days of request. For QoS parameters and other consumer-related information refer to this TRAI handbook.

Using your complaint’s unique docket number, you can track complaint status at the operator’s online complaint monitoring system. You can find the links for complaint monitoring, contacts of complaints authorities etc at this TRAI website. Once the complaint is resolved, you will get an SMS mentioning this.

If the complaint is not resolved in the specified time, you can file an appeal with the operator’s appellate authority, free of cost. You can file the appeal by calling 198, or by email, fax, post, call or visit to the authority, within 30 days of the time limit for initial complaint resolution.

On filing the appeal, you will get a unique appeal number. The appellate authority will be advised on each appeal by a two-member Advisory Committee. All operators are required to set up this committee that comprises a representative from the operator, and another from a consumer organisation registered with TRAI. The appeal authority has 30 days to resolve the complaint and inform you about it.

If the issue is not resolved even after this, you can approach the consumer forum. Here is our guide on how to approach the consumer forum.

Tips

  • TRAI has received several complaints from the public about fraudster companies approaching them, promising high rents from TRAI for setting up mobile towers in their property. Such companies collect “government fees” and then vanish. TRAI has clarified that it has no role in installing mobile towers.
  • If you get missed calls from numbers with prefix other than +91, don’t call back. These could be fraud international calls with high ISD charges.
  • Don’t prefix ‘00’ or ‘+’ to a local number while saving it in your phone, as you could be charged international rates when you call that number later.

A few important numbers

  • Mobile number portability: SMS ‘PORT’ to 1900
  • DND: SMS ‘START 0’ to 1909 to block commercial calls/SMS
  • Activate/deactivate data services: Call toll free number 1925
  • Activate/deactivate VAS: Call/SMS 155223
  • Contact customer service executive: Call toll free IVRS number 198 

About Navya P K 25 Articles
Navya P K is a former senior staff journalist at Citizen Matters, and a freelance journalist based in Kerala.