Sunday, May 23, 2004

Mobile confusion
Pushpa Girimaji

IF you are a mobile user, you must be finding the innumerable tariff plans confusing. Add to this the frequent changes in plans, promotional offers and the poor communication skills of service providers and you have a package that is bound to affect your right to informed choice.

According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), service providers submitted 3925 tariff plans for approval in 2003. Even though only 25 per cent of these were actually offered in the market, on an average, mobile operators in the country (both GSM and CDMA) had as many as`A042 tariff plans per circle. In addition, there were multiple promotional offers cutting across various tariffs. In 2003, re about 500 promotional offers were made. The operators also frequently changed their tariff plans. The total number of revisions in tariff submitted to TRAI in 2003 was 2278.

TRAI, which is considering ways and means of protecting consumer interest vis-`E0-vis the tariff plans of telecom service providers, says in a consultation paper that owing to frequent changes in plans, there is no guarantee that a consumer will continue to get a service at a certain tariff for a minimum period.

It points out that the service providers also frequently withdraw tariff plans, forcing the customers to migrate to other plans. Despite strict prohibition of migration charges, instances have come to the notice of the Authority wherein a migration fee or hidden charge has been levied.

There are also instances where the service provider has unilaterally changed the tariff plan without the consumerís consent and without giving him the choice of moving to another plan. Fortunately for consumers, the apex consumer court will not condone such acts.

In this case, the complainant, A.S.Qureshi, had opted for a plan`A0launched in 2001, under which for a monthly rent of Rs 950, the consumer could enjoy free incoming calls for the first 12 billing cycles. `A0However, in the bill for December 2001, he was charged Rs 1,568 for incoming calls. The company told him that it had modified the plan and restricted the free incoming call facility to 400 minutes. Qureshi approached the consumer court for refund of the incoming call charges.

The service provider said that following the launch of the free incoming plan, it had received complaints of congestion in the network and had, therefore, reduced the free incoming calls to 400 minutes and the monthly rent by Rs 150. The company argued that the change was in the interest of the consumer. Besides,`A0as per the agreement signed by the customer, the company reserved the right to modify the tariff without intimating the consumer.

`A0The Commission held that the service provider can not change the tariff plan without giving the consumer prior notice and the option to change the plan. The Commission directed the company to refund the incoming call charges collected from the consumer for the disputed period. (The Manager, BPL Mobile Cellular Ltd vs Asif Shaukat Qureshi, RP No 2908 of 2003, decided on November 19, 2003).

Thus, if you have a problem with a tariff plan, do complain to TRAI. And if you want relief against deficient services or unfair trade practices by service providers, knock at the door of a consumer court.

This feature was published on May 16, 2004