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Operators have to inform customers on data usage: TRAI

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

India’s telecom regulator TRAI on Friday made it mandatory for telecom operators to issue notices in form of USSD or SMS about data usage to its customers at regular intervals.

Mobile network operators now need to send information about the usage to data users at every 10 MB of data consumption except customers opting for special schemes like add-on packs, combo offers and others. The consumers are to be provided with an option to opt out if they do not desire to receive such information.

For customers using special data packs, the operator has to compulsorily inform the customer whenever the limit of data usage reaches 50 per cent, 90 per cent and full exhaustion of the allotted data limit.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) also ordered the operators to intimate customers when the data balance available in the account reaches 500 MB, 100 MB and 10MB.

“Further the consumer shall be informed about the details of tariff applicable after exhausting the data limit, when the data limit reaches 90 percent or the data balance available in the account reaches 10MB,” TRAI said in a note.

Operators also need to send an alert to international roaming customer cautioning the person to deactivate data service if one does not intend to use data services.

TRAI ordered the service providers to implement the same by November 1 this year.

The regulator further said data services should be activated only with the explicit consent of the subscriber through a toll free short code – 1925. The same short code can be used to deactivate the data services as well.

“Data services through Special Tariff Voucher or Combo Voucher or add-on pack will be deemed to have been activated with consent till the expiry of the validity period of the voucher/pack or on the consumption of entire data, whichever is earlier,” said the TRAI notification.

Additionally, the customers also need to be informed through SMS at periodic intervals about the prescribed procedure for deactivation of data.

The regulator said it has been receiving several complaints from consumers regarding non-availability of information relating to the amount of data used during a data session.

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TRAI ruling: green flag to Net Neutralists

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By Prasanto K Roy

On Monday afternoon, India’s telecom regulator finally put to rest the fiery net neutrality debate in India, by ruling against zero rating and differential tariffs.

Zero rating lets Airtel users use Facebook, for instance, free of data levies, while charging for access to other services or websites.

This violates net neutrality, which says there should be no differential pricing — free data for one service, but priced for another — based on the content or websites.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has now forbidden such “discriminatory pricing” by whatever name it may be called.

The watchdog’s ruling is clear and sharp, and a blow to Facebook’s high-stakes Free Basics platform, born as Internet.org, as well as to Airtel Zero and other zero-rating platforms tried out, or planned, by telcos.

The year-long battle between the heavyweights, including telecom giants and Facebook, and a bunch of volunteers under the SaveTheInternet.in banner, was fiery, and seemingly unequal.

Facebook ploughed in an estimated Rs.300 crore into its three-month campaign defending Free Basics. Against it, though, the lone volunteer-activists gradually managed to drum up a great deal of public support.

A spokesman said Facebook was “disappointed with the outcome, but we will continue our efforts to eliminate barriers and give the unconnected an easier path to the internet and the opportunities it brings”.

Expectedly, the activists were ecstatic.

“This is a historic outcome,” said Kiran Jonnalagadda, a co-founder of the SaveTheInternet.in movement.

“For the first time, India leads where the US and Europe will follow. Many thanks to TRAI chairman R.S. Sharma for backing such an important ruling as his first major act in office.”

The TRAI ruling got widespread applause, including from tech association Nasscom, which had given a submission supporting net neutrality. Its Internet council chairman Sanjeev Bikhchandani said the ruling would “help address apprehensions of young startups fearing the lack of a level playing field.”

Entrepreneur Arvind Jha of TiE said the collective power of 7,000 startups (whose founders had written to the PMO supporting Net Neutrality) and a dedicated team of volunteers has won over Facebook’s ad blitzkrieg running into hundreds of crores of rupees.

So have David and the good guys vanquished Goliath, ending the battle?

The reality may be more nuanced than that. A battle much bigger than activists versus Facebook is up ahead: Providing Internet access to nearly a billion Indians who are offline, or nominally online, today.

First, the nuances.

Facebook is responsible for a great deal of the Internet penetration in India. Of the 300 million mobile users who make up over 90 percent of India’s internet base, 56 percent use WhatsApp daily, and 51 percent use Facebook, according to a TNS survey released last October.

So, at least, two out of every three Internet users in India use mobile data, purely to use one or the other of Facebook’s apps, including WhatsApp. It would be great to find a net-neutral way to let users access the apps or sites they need to (which may include WhatsApp or Facebook), free, or cheaply.

The Net neutrality movement, and now TRAI, has shot down Free Basics, which would have got Facebook and a few select apps free of data charges to subscribers of one telco (Reliance Communications).

But, TRAI hasn’t yet suggested what alternatives could be used to provide cheap or free Internet access to the hundreds of millions of mobile users who are unable or unwilling to pay for mobile data.

And no! They don’t have access to even wireline broadband.

The watchdog did ask that question in its consultation paper. So we’re all hoping it will yet come up with some workable ideas.

There are several options as well.

For instance, letting the telecom companies offer a certain amount of free data for all, or using apps like Gigato which allow sponsors to top-up data, free, for prepaid users of specific apps: that recharged data can then be used for accessing any website or app.

Then there’s Digital India, which aims to put Wi-Fi into towns and villages, letting smartphone users access the internet free or cheaply.

Former journalist Pierre Fitter puts it well: “Good that all Web content will be treated as equal. Now comes the important bit: making sure everyone can access the Internet.” (IANS)

(Prasanto K. Roy is a senior technology journalist)

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Delhi HC asks TRAI if compensation is the only solution for call drops

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New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Thursday asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) whether its order making it mandatory for cellular operators to compensate subscribers for call drops was the “only solution” to reduce call drops.

A division bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Jayant Nath asked if the sector regulator if it had considered all the objections raised by the telecom operators before passing the October 16 order.

The objection of the service provider does not reflect on the measures taken. Where is the application of mind? Was it the only solution?” the bench asked as it heard the plea of telecom operators for a stay on TRAI’s compensation policy for call drops, under which a rupee will be credited to the mobile users’ account for every call drop (restricted to three per day) starting January 1, 2016.

Earlier, TRAI had told the court that it will not take coercive steps against telecom companies for not complying with the call drop compensation norms till January 6.

On Thursday, the court did not pass any interim order saying if service providers begin compensating consumers for call drops as, per the new TRAI regulations, it won’t be possible to recover them if the rule was set aside in future.

Additional Solicitor General PS Narasimha, appearing for TRAI, said the order was taken after consumers began getting regular call drops. He said the telecom companies have not made enough investment on technology and infrastructure which could prevent call drops.

In the first quarter of 2015, about 25,787 crore outgoing call were made, out of which in 200 crore cases of call drops were encountered by consumers. This is 0.77 percent of all call made, Narasimha told the court adding that service provider made about Rs.36,781 crore during the period.

He further clarified that call drop compensation is applicable only when it has occurred from the call originator’s network.

We treated the compensation as a nominal penalty so that they fall in line. That’s why we kept it at only three calls. But consumers are asking to be compensated for all call drops,

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the telecom operators, argued that under the Quality of Service regulations, two percent of call drops are exempted. He also said that most cases of call drops were not because of the fault of the service providers as they have been facing difficulties in setting up new towers due to opposition from various fronts.(IANS)(Picture Courtesy: www.topnews.in)

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Call drop penalty takes effect from January

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New Delhi: India’s telecom watchdog on Friday said mobile phone operators have to compensate subscribers on call drops from January 1 next year at the rate of a rupee for each such failure.

A notification from the Telecom Regulatory Authotity of India (TRAI) said the calling consumer will get a credit of Re 1 per call drop, limited to three such occurances per day in a 24-hour cycle. Following that, the mobile operators have to send them an SMS within four hours.

The regulator also defined what constituted such a failure.

“Call drops means a voice call which, after being successfully established, is interrupted prior to its normal completion – the cause of the early termination being within the network of the service provider.”

The watchdog said it had examined the representations of telecom operators who maintain that some issues like poor spectrum allocation and difficulties in setting up towers that were beyond their control and contributing to call drops.

It said it was for this reason that the authority has kept the compensatory mechanism simple so that the consumers understand the same easily, and the operators are able to implement it as well.

The effective date for call-drop compensation comes a day after the watchdog said doubled the penalty for poor quality service and said an operator will now be fined up to Rs 1 lakh for the first non-compliance of benchmarks in a quarter compared Rs 50,000 earlier.

It also said the non-compliance, benchmarked on some 15 parameters under technical and customer care categories, in two or more consecutive quarters will result in a penalty up to Rs 1.5 lakh and a fine up to Rs 2 lakh.

If the telecom operators do not meet the benchmarks, companies like Airtel, Reliance and Idea could end up paying around Rs 2.3 crore, Rs 1.9 crore and Rs 80 lakh respectively, taking into account a scenario that only 10 percent of their subscriber base face only one call drop a day.

Airtel, Reliance and Idea have 23.29 crore, 10.99 crore and 8.33 crore subscribers respectively.

(IANS)