Indians once enjoyed 1/2 Paisa/Min Call rates, infinite Validity

About 5 years ago, the validity of my prepaid mobile number given by my mobile operator (eg. Airtel, Idea etc.) was 2038.

The TOS (Terms of Service) were simple. If I don’t have sufficient balance to make a call, I needed to recharge. It was that simple.

If I remember correctly, about 7 or 8 years ago, the local call rates started from 1/2 a paisa per minute. To reduce call rates you needed a tariff voucher.

Then slowly we moved on to some noteworthy rules (or complications). For example, recharge at least in 6 months. Thus the days of infinite validity gone.

Then came Jio, which lured customers with a service where mobile users were told: No need to pay for making calls. In addition, all they had to pay for was for a locked handset which can be used for unlimited mobile data/internet.

All this while, many of us kept wondering, how will this company make money?

We never asked ourselves how will this company make money?

The Answer is : By killing the Competition. Or by becoming the single player.

Today we have reached a stage where, the TOS for even a prepaid mobile user, is a compulsory read. Have a look at some basic rules of Airtel:

Automatic number retention scheme

Description
Services to the SIM card will be discontinued if there is no usage, i.e. no Voice / Video call (Outgoing or Incoming) or an outgoing SMS or a Data session or usage of Value Added Services for a continuous period of 90 days. Customer with more than Rs 20 account balance shall be charged Rs 20 for 30 days for automatic service extension. This process will be repeated till such time the minimum amount in customers account is more than Rs 20. At any point of time, if the balance is less than Rs 20 the services will be disconnected. Customer will not be able to use this number post disconnection. However, the customer can get the same number reactivated within 15 days of disconnection by paying reactivation charge of Rs. 20.

Too many rules, … Right?

Yes.

But we must not blame Airtel here. If the blame goes then it goes to all the mobile operators — Jio, Idea, Vodafone etc. If the things are ok. Then lets blame no company because the TOS of all are almost same.

If we have to blame someone, then we must blame the ecosystem where regulatory rules were imposed in such a manner that it encouraged one operator at the cost of other.

In 2019, we are suddenly debating the rationale behind TRAI allowing or not allowing mobile internet telephony. Ever since the launch of Jio, people were using Jio phone for making calls. Now, the country is also debating the justification behind imposition of IUC (Interconnect User Charges) by mobile operators, but many of these rules were sacrificed when people used supposedly free phones for making calls and surfing internet.

What does all this mean today?

The companies, which are made to make profit, never distribute freebies. Sooner than later they want more money from their investment. We as customers assume that they are there for distributing free gifts.

Some of you will ask — Then how did the same companies give economical user-centric services earlier?

The Answer is — By passing on some portion of what they are happy to give.

In 2005, when the then Govt changed the method and the licensed operators were offered additional spectrum, without any competitive process, based on the number of subscribers on their network, the objective was to protect the rights of the end-users or customers (You, he, she and I); encourage a healthy competition so that the mobile users get good service at economical (or competitive) prices.

In 2007, the government awarded 122 mobile licences, with bundled spectrum, without auction, at a price discovered in 2001. The underlying objective was again the same — To protect the rights of the end users. But this simple protection to the rights of the end user went missing in the amidst the uproar of so called 2G scam. The Supreme Court cancelled the new licences and ordered the government to henceforth auction all spectrum. Had there be no such re-auctioning, today we would surely be paying much less with lesser TOS complications.

Today, TRAI seems to have changed sides. It seems, TRAI is NOT there to protect the rights of the end-users of mobile services. What is more unsettling is that many among us are seeing the solution in 5G or technology. Personally I feel the problem is the lack of competition. Hence technology or our faith in any particular mobile operator will not help. A single mobile service provider will only increase mobile service charges and decrease the quality of service. For TRAI to safeguard our interests, we need healthy competition so that we have more service providers to choose from. If that doesn’t happen, make yourself familiar to increasing mobile services charges, poor quality of service and complicated TOS.