India’s Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has upheld a direction from sector watchdog the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) obliging mobile operators to provide outgoing SMS facilities for customers to use mobile number portability (MNP) service, regardless of their tariff plan. In its ruling, the TDSAT rejected an appeal from mobile operator Vodafone Idea (Vi) which had argued that the order was at odds with the regulator’s stance towards tariff setting. The cellco noted that whilst it is obliged to make MNP services available to its customers via SMS, customers that choose plans where this is not possible (i.e. packages with no SMS facility) have effectively opted to temporarily forgo their right to make use of MNP services. By mandating that providers offer outgoing SMS services to all customers, however, Vi claimed that the TRAI was infringing on providers’ rights to formulate tariffs.
The TRAI’s direction had been issued in December 2021 following complaints from customers that they had not been able to send the necessary SMS on short code 1900 for MNP services. After looking into the matter, the TRAI found that certain operators were offering pre-paid vouchers and plans that did not include SMS facility and as such were preventing customers from sending SMS related to MNP.
In its ruling the TDSAT stated that the TRAI’s order had no impact on the forbearance regime with regards to tariff setting. Further, the MNP regulations – including the TRAI’s subsequent direction – establish the obligation for providers to enable customers to send and receive SMS to make use of MNP facilities. The TDSAT conceded, though, that providers should be entitled to charge for MNP-related SMS at the usual rate for which customers are charged for SMS. As such, the court noted that the TRAI should issue an addendum to clarify that SMS messages sent in relation to porting are not free of charge.