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Telcos are snapping services despite enough balance: Trai

New Delhi: Trai has directed operators not to immediately disconnect services of customers with "sufficient" pre-paid balance as it took strong note of telcos asking such users to go in for mandatory monthly recharge plan. The telecom regulator came down heavily on the operators after it received complaints from subscribers that they are being sent text messages to "mandatorily" recharge their prepaid accounts in order to continue to avail services.

These subscribers rued that the messages are being sent despite their pre-paid accounts having "sufficient balance". "Tariff and plans are under forbearance and we don't generally intervene. But if there is sufficient money in the account and despite that people are being told that the services will be disconnected, it is not correct," Trai Chairman RS Sharma told reporters here.

The directive in this regard has gone out to operators on Tuesday, he added. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) met operators earlier this week and is currently examining the issue in its entirety. It has asked operators to "duly inform subscribers in a clear and transparent manner the date on which the current validity of existing plan would expire and the manner in which the subscriber can opt for the available plans including minimum recharge plan using subscriber's available pre-paid account balance or otherwise".

It also asked operators to provide all this information to subscribers through SMS immediately and "not later than 72 hours". Trai in its directive to operators said, "till such time, services of such customers who have balance in pre-paid accounts equal to minimum recharge amount, should not be discontinued".

The telecom sector has been bruised by falling tariffs, eroding profitability, and mounting debt in the face of stiff competition triggered by disruptive offerings of Reliance Jio, owned by Mukesh Ambani. Two of the largest operators — Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea — are looking to boost their revenue realisation per user and have announced minimum monthly recharge plans starting from Rs 35.

Next year Trai will initiate an in-depth consultation on general principles related to spectrum including its valuation methodology, Chairman R S Sharma said Wednesday. Sharma — who met telcos including Vodafone Idea, Reliance Jio and Airtel on issues to be prioritized for 2019 — asserted that the upcoming deliberations will not have any bearing on the past recommendations of Trai on the auction of radiowaves.

"We have received suggestions on spectrum-related issues, policy relating to spectrum auctions, reserve price valuation methodology, spectrum leasing, surrendering, trading...all these things will be deliberated upon. We will bring a consultation paper which will have all spectrum-related issues," said Sharma.

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