The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued a new directive to telecom operators to not charge their customers for SMSes and calls more their current tariff rates on days such as Diwali and Holi, referred to as 'blackout days'. However, free or concessional voice calls and SMS offered to users under discount schemes or packs will not be available on blackout days.

As per TRAI’s latest directive, a consumer has to be informed through SMS not earlier than 72 hours and not later than the 24 hours before the blackout day begins, specifying the the occasion and date of the blackout day and the rate applicable for calls and SMSs on such days.

Consumers may have to bear the brunt

No extra charges on voice calls and SMS on blackout days (Image credit: Getty Images)

The directive is the latest in an ongoing attempt of the regulatory body to improve the state of affairs in the telecom industry in the country. 

In the brief directive issued, the TRAI states that access service providers (ASPs) cannot fix the number of blackout days to more than 5 in a calendar year. “No access service provider shall, – where the number of days so specified as referred to in clause (a) above is less than five, make any addition to the number of days specified as ‘black out’ days, after the same is subscribed by the telecom consumer ; (c) make any alteration in any date which has been specified as a ‘black out’ day as referred to in clause (a) above, after  the same is subscribed by the telecom consumer.”

Importantly, the body directs all telecom service providers to reveal the specifics of the tariffs on the package itself, clearly stating that free or concessional voice calls and SMS available under discount schemes or packs will not apply on blackout days, and that usual SMS and call charges will be levied on such days.

The TRAI also sought a report from the telecom service providers ascertaining compliance. In the directive further, the TRAI highlights that service providers sent them information on the manner in which consumers are being informed about the “‘blackout’ days and also the contents of SMS being sent to the consumers for the purpose”. 

The TRAI had been informed by the service providers, by way of a report, indicating that consumers had been informed about the rules via the following one or more than one channels: website, SUK, SEF/CAF, SMS, printed on recharge, newspaper, banner, poster, user guide and call centre. 

In the directive, the body points out that an analysis of the SMSes sent across to consumers by service providers showed variations, both in content and manner. The TRAI notes that in some cases the SMSes did not convey the complete information in a transparent manner. 

Another rather worrying observation put forth by the body is that there exists no uniformity even in the rates charged to consumers by different tariff providers. It notes, “…while some service providers are charging as per standard rate, others are charging as per the tariff plan rate or specified rate…”

Clearly, the directive is a welcome one, for SMSes and voice calls are still very popular modes of communication. Extra tariffs on these services, especially on big festive days become quite a dampener.

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