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Why are discounted SMS rates not valid on certain days?

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Why are discounted SMS rates not valid on certain days? What are the rules that govern these days? Can Mobile operators specify as many days as they wish?  Here is an explainer.

Many of you might have received that customary message from your Telecom Service Provider (mobile operators) about discounted and free SMS rates not being valid on certain days.  Why is that mobile operators charge normal rates on some specific days and not charge us the usual package rate on these days? The answer lies in ‘Black Out Days’ as listed by the respective service provider.

Transparency in Tariff Offers
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the apex regulatory body in the telecom sector issued detailed direction in September, 2008 to all telecom service providers regarding transparency in their tariff offers. The direction was an outcome of large number of complaints from consumers and consumer organizations that the tariffs plans offered by the service providers are complex to understand and are confusing, which makes it difficult for consumers to make an informed choice.

TRAI initiated a consultation process on this issue and also held open house discussions before coming up with these directions. The directions were issued in four broad areas namely

  • Directions relating to Key Tariff Information
  • Directions relating to Promotional Offers
  • Direction relating to condition or barrier in cases of migration from one plan to another in certain cases
  • Directions relating to Black out days

Key Tariff Information
TRAI directed all telecom service providers to provide detailed information to consumers on each tariff plan offered by them in both Vernacular & English language. The information about each plan should include the following:

  • Title
  • Rental/Fixed Fee
  • Billing Cycle/Validity
  • Free Call Allowance/Talk time
  • Tariff per Unit for:
    • Local Call
    • STD
    • ISD
    • SMS
    • National roaming

Not just this, all this information has to be prominently displayed at all the retail outlets of the telecom service providers.

Promotional Offers
All the service providers must provide the following information to public with respect to any promotional offer,

  • The eligibility criteria for such promotional offer
  • The opening and closing dates of such promotional offer

Barrier in cases of migration from one plan to another in certain cases
No service provider should put any condition or barrier such as the requirement of obtaining new SIM or change of telephone number, etc., to a consumer who wishes to migrate across plans or across postpaid and prepaid platforms.

The Black Out Days
Coming to black out days, TRAI has allowed the service providers to fix a maximum of five (5) ‘black out’ days in a calendar year. ‘Black out’ days are those days on which free or concessional Voice Calls/SMS offered under any plan/ package including discounted rates are not valid. Normal rates will be applicable on these blackout days. In the beginning of each year, the telecom service providers are asked to specify the ‘black out’ days for that year. They are free to specify different set of dates for each telecom circle. Different service providers can fix different black out days. But once they are fixed, the dates cannot be modified. For example, the list of black out days for 2018 has different days listed for different circles.

The service providers are supposed to clearly indicate the following to the consumer before opting for any package.

  • The list of ‘black out’ days for that circle
  • SMS/call charges applicable on such specified ‘black out’ days.

In addition, all the service providers are supposed to display the list of black out days on their website. For instance, the list of blackout days for Airtel can be accessed here. TRAI has also issued additional directions in the year 2012 to improve transparency in the communication of black out days to the consumers. In its directions, TRAI mentioned the following.

  • To ensure that the consumer is not charged for calls or SMSs on ‘blackout’ days exceeding the rate in the tariff plan in which he is enrolled
  • To inform the consumer, through SMS, not earlier than 72 hours and not later than 24 hours prior to the commencement of the ‘blackout’ day, the occasion and date of ‘blackout’ day and the rate applicable for calls and SMSs on such ‘blackout’ days
  • To display the list of blackout days applicable for the calendar year on their respective websites before start of the year

Those of you who wish to know more about the rights of a telecom consumer are encouraged to read the Consumers’ Handbook on Telecommunications by TRAI.

Discounted SMS Rates - Consumer Handbook by TRAI

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