Sector watchdog the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has asked the nation’s mobile providers to submit data on their pre-paid customer bases, so that it can assess what steps may be needed to protect such users following the extension of India’s stay-at-home order to 3 May. The Economic Times writes that the TRAI asked cellcos – including two state-owned operators – to provide details such as the number of users that ran out of credit during the lockdown period and have not recharged their account, and what proportion of their pre-paid user bases these customers made up at the start of the lockdown. Providers were also asked how many users were given free credit of INR10 (USD0.13) or more by the cellcos to ensure continuous connectivity during the shutdown. Once it receives this information, the TRAI is expected to finalise advice or instructions for further protective measures for customers that may have access to communications services limited by the lockdown extension.
The regulator has not yet taken steps to oblige operators to provide protections for potentially vulnerable pre-paid customers, as the cellcos have each introduced various measures of this kind, such as extending the validity of their plans until 17 April (i.e. for the original duration of the lockdown period), and providing free credit. With the extension of the stay-at-home order, however, the TRAI is keen to ensure that similar protections remain in place, but industry lobby group the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has warned that the government may need to provide companies with financial assistance from the universal service fund.
The TRAI has given no indication yet that it intends to force providers to implement further protective measures, with a senior TRAI official quoted as saying that: ‘It’s for them to come forward and announce extensions of the offers for pre-paid customers since the lockdown period is now extended.’ On a similar note, whilst the COAI is keen for the government to acknowledge and address the level of financial stress in the sector, director general Rajan Mathews clarified that the COAI’s members would ‘continue to monitor the situation and decide on appropriate means to meet the needs of customers.’
According to the TRAI’s most recent data, pre-paid users made up more than 95% of India’s mobile customers in September 2019.