February 14, 2006, The Hindu Business Line
New Delhi

Thomas K. Thomas

CONSUMER groups want the telecom regulator to impose a penalty on mobile operators if they change the terms of lifetime pre-paid card offers or withdraw them midway.

While on the one hand mobile operators have maintained that the lifetime tariffs are viable, on the other hand they also say that the liability for any operator to keep a tariff package was for only six months, after which they can change or withdraw the package.

Mobile operators have also said that they may not sustain the lifetime plan if there is any change in the regulatory environment.

Responding to the consultation paper issued by the telecom regulator on the validity of lifetime plans on offer from mobile operators, Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) said: “TRAI should not allow service providers to breach the contract they are getting into with consumers. Should this happen, the penalty should be strong enough to serve as deterrent to other service providers following the same path.”

The Bangalore-based Consumer Care Society has said that while exit options must clearly be spelt out by service providers, there should be refund of full upfront amount within, say, 60 days for administrative processing.

Only one operator has backed the consumer groups’ concerns. Tata Teleservices said that while operators should be allowed to change the terms and conditions of the contract in the event of any change in regulation, consumers must get a full refund of the entire money collected upfront if an operator unilaterally withdraws the lifetime benefit without any reason within the first year of service.

Most operators are offering the lifetime plan for an upfront fee of Rs 999. Tata Teleservices has also suggested that the TRAI could ask the operators to refund 50 per cent of the fee if the plan is terminated between the first and the second year of launching the package.

Cellular operators, by and large, have expressed reservations against any intervention by TRAI in this regard.

“There are many variables in the marketplace that require the operators to constantly tailor their tariff offerings to attract subscribers. Having prescribed forbearance for cellular tariffs, the authority should now not seek to withdraw this flexibility or indulge in micro management,” said the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI).

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