The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has directed telecom service providers to make sure they do not deactivate prepaid mobile connections that have been inactive for less than 90 days. The regulatory body recently released a host of regulatory guidelines for telecom service providers to follow before they deactivate inactive SIMs.

Defining what constitutes usage, the guidelines specify that a voice call or a video call (incoming or outgoing), an outgoing SMS, data usage or VAS usage, and rental payments (for postpaid connections) fall under the term. That apart, the service provider may mention any other activity.

As per the guidelines, if a prepaid consumer’s account has a balance of Rs 20 or more, then that connection will not be deactivated. Prepaid customers will be able to go in for an 'Automatic Number Retention Scheme' by paying the necessary charges.

Importantly, a consumer whose connection has been deactivated will be given a grace period of 15 days to reactivate their number. Service providers are also directed to inform consumers the terms and conditions regarding the deactivation of inactive SIMs in a transparent manner.

In addition, a “Safe Custody Scheme” will also be implemented for postpaid consumers upon payment of necessary charges. Such users will not have to pay monthly rentals during the period of safe custody.

Consumers may have to bear the brunt

New guidelines to take effect (Image credit: Getty Images)

These guidelines have been prescribed in the Telecom Consumers Protection (Sixth Amendment) Regulations, 2013. The regulation aims to safeguard the interests of mobile consumers while keeping in mind the major concerns of telecom companies in the matter of deactivation of SIMs.

However, service providers are of the opinion that mobile connections inactive for longer durations “block scarce numbering resources and keeping such mobile connections active in the system for unduly long periods becomes non-remunerative.”

Importantly, TRAI has noted that the system currently followed lacks transparency. Consumers are also not informed well about the terms and conditions of such disconnections. Also, a consumer's account balance is lost once their connection has been deactivated, causing them inconvenience.

This is a welcome move and is sure to please consumers. Earlier this year, several telcos suggested that prepaid subscribers may soon have to shell out a sum to keep their phone numbers inactive for more than two months. This suggestion followed a noticeable lack in the availability of 10-digit numbers. In their response to a consultation paper pertaining to deactivation of inactive SIM cards, telcos like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Cellular, Reliance Communications and Tata Teleservices told TRAI that roughly 200 million inactive SIMs needed to be terminated, especially in the prepaid segment.

The telecom service providers had put forth their proposal of the “safe custody” facility for prepaid users. Currently, postpaid users are offered this facility, where subscribers are allowed to keep their inactive numbers for an extended period of time for a fee. In its statement to TRAI, RCom stated, “By paying a lump sum fee, any wireless subscriber should be able to retain their mobile connections even after long continuous periods of non-usage.”

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