Cell firms hang up on SMS freebies

Cell firms hang up on SMS freebies

Author | Source: Business Standard | Tuesday, Dec 26,2006 9:12 AM

Cell firms hang up on SMS freebies

Discounted schemes withdrawn on days when load is heavy; Trai not happy.

Here is bad news for millions of customers who thought that subscription to the discounted SMS schemes would come in handy on a few special occasions like Christmas or New Year.

Mobile operators have suddenly withdrawn the discounted benefits for SMSs on some “key” days of the year when the load is heavy.

Operators like Hutch, Idea and Airtel have sent messages to their customers saying that that “discount schemes will not be applicable on festive days like Christmas, Diwali, New Year, Valentine’s Day, among others.”

At least half of the pre-paid customers use the discounted SMS schemes offered by operators. And they pay about Rs 25-60 per month to avail themselves of the scheme.

However, not all is lost. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) officials said while they had not received any complaint so far, it was a serious issue. “Operators cannot suddenly withdraw the discounts unless subscribers are properly informed at the time of the service delivery,” a top Trai official said.

He added that due to congestion on such days, millions of SMSs remained undelivered but customers still paid for them as SMSs were charged on origination and not on termination.

Telecom operators defend the move by saying that the key reason is not revenue generation but easing congestion on these heavy traffic days. However, industry experts say that companies also want to maximise their revenue on these days. Usually, SMS traffic on New Year's eve and day swells up to 3-4 times.

TV Ramachandran, director-general of the Cellular Operators Association of India, said: “One should understand that because of the free and discounted advantage, the traffic will be jammed. Millions of normal subscribers will also suffer. Also, the plan details clearly say that operators can withdraw the scheme on certain days.”

A Hutch spokesperson said the discounted schemes would not be applicable to SMSs for a few select “heavy traffic days” and everything was mentioned in the plan details. The move was to ensure that service to regular customers, who paid normal rates, were not affected, he added. Bharti cited similar reasons.

Reliance Communications and Tata Teleservices said schemes offered by them would remain unchanged.

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