Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has directed Indian telecom services providers to maintain higher levels of transparency for blackout days. These are the days when promotional offers or concessional tariffs may cease to apply. Typical lists of blackout days can include New Year, Diwali, Friendships Day and New Year’s Eve.
Festivals and key dates generally witness a flurry of messages, forwards and even voice calls that may have been made to wish and greet. Users subscribing to promotional SMS/voice packs which offer concessional rates may be unaware that telecom operators can chose to apply full tariff on these ‘blackout days’.
The new TRAI guidelines make it mandatory for operators to inform customers about a blackout day prior to the date of the blackout. This guideline could potentially mean that subscribers will be notified via SMS or other means when concessional tariffs will cease to apply on blackout days. Operators will also have to let customers know of the occasion for the blackout.
The TRAI directive mentions that charges for SMSes or calls made on blackout days should not exceed the rate in a customer’s tariff plan. Last year subscribers were charged more for SMSes during Diwali up to ‘typically twice the normal tariff’. After receiving complains from citizens, Madras High Court had ordered 10 mobile companies to refrain from charging extra for SMSes during festivals.
In addition to intimating customers about such days and capping charges to the rates in tariff plans, service providers will also be required to display a list of blackout days on their websites.
Earlier TRAI had asked telcos to limit the number of blackout days to five days per calendar year.
Companies were asked to mention and indicate days which were deemed as ‘blackout days’ in tariff plans. For the time being, we checked the website of a leading telecom services provider. The list of blackout days was found in the very fine print below tariff details and plan specifications.
The new TRAI directives are potentially aimed at making subscribers better informed of the fact that they will not be availing the benefits of promotional offers on blackout days.
Until now, a customer may not have been aware that SMSes of Diwali greetings sent to his/her entire phonebook would be charged full rate despite having signed up for a 10p/SMS promotional pack.
Upon complaint, operators would have sought defense in the fine print that users sign off while entering into a contract.
The TRAI guidelines and clarity of blackout days will leave little room for ambiguity and will possibly see a reduction of customer complaints in this regard.