NEW DELHI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) caught hold of Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea for unnecessarily warning subscribers on certain plans that their SIM cards will be deactivated if they do not recharge their pre-paid accounts through these subscribers had the minimum required balance in their accounts.
“TRAI has acknowledged a large number of complaints regarding SMS’s being received by customers to mandatorily recharge their prepaid accounts if they wanted to continue to avail services even though their prepaid account had sufficient balance in it,”
the regulator wrote in similar but separate letters to the two telecommunication giants dated November 27. The regulator met with the companies on November 26 and sent out the letters a day later. The companies have also been asked to provide information to the subscribers through SMS immediately, subject to a maximum of three days.
The regulator said that while it was rereading the inputs from the service providers, it has directed the companies to duly inform the subscribers in a clear and transparent manner the date on which the current validity of their existing plan would expire.
TRAI also insisted that the companies inform these subscribers the procedure in which they may opt for available plans, including the minimum recharge plan, using the subscribers’ available prepaid account balance.
The companies were further told not to deactivate the SIMs of these subscribers till such time they have balance in their accounts equal to the minimum recharge amount required as per a tariff plan.
The letter comes in the backdrop of Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea going on a drive to weed out customers who maintain the only minimum balance in their accounts so as to be able to receive calls but do not make outgoing calls, dragging the metric of average revenue per user (ARPU) down. These plans are called minimum recharge plans and typically begin at Rs 35.
“Catering to the evolving market dynamics, Vodafone Idea has radically simplified its prepaid plans to enhance customer requirements. These new integrated prepaid plans, available in a range of price points, offer bundled talk-time and tariff, making them easier to understand and use,” a spokesperson for India’s new market leader said in response to ET’s queries.
“These plans have been rolled out across all circles and we are actively connecting with customers, telling them of the changes and convincing them to avail these new plans,” the company added. Bharti Airtel didn’t respond to emailed queries seeking comment.
Vodafone India and Idea Cellular – whose merge at the end of August created by Vodafone Idea – and Bharti Airtel has faced severe pressure on revenue and profitability since Reliance Jio’s grand level entry in September 2016.
While Vodafone Idea reported a 4.7% sequential fall in its ARPU to a record low of Rs 88 and Bharti Airtel saw its fall 4.3% to Rs 100.8 – a similar all-time low – in the July-September quarter. Reliance Jio info-communications, though, reported a higher ARPU – of Rs 131.7 –though also down 2% consecutively.