But all three telcos rejected the idea of any regulation on international tariffs and asked the authority not to intervene in the complex IMR tariff construct which involves bulk tariff negotiations with multiple foreign operators.
The issue at hand is that telcos, for instance, offer a standard rate of Rs 180 per minute for making a call from USA to India, whereas the one-day pack with unlimited incoming calls and 100 minutes of calls to India is being offered at Rs 575. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had floated a consultation paper on IMR services to ask the carriers about the rationale behind this vast gap, among various other issues causing bill shocks to international roamers.
Vodafone Idea, in its response to the paper, said that these charges “have strong economic/commercial rationale to merit such a distinction” as they are offered to suit the usage needs of different types of customers. “In case of prepaid customers, out of actual roamers, 80% are on standard rates and only 20% are on IR packs,” the telco said.
On its part, Bharti Airtel said that under its ‘Roam without fear’ feature, the telco bars data usage whenever a customer exceeds his daily pack limit to prevent accidental usage, while others you use below the limit pay as per standard rates. Thus, “rationalisation of standard rates doesn’t impact the customers as they are already protected by us”.
As per analyst estimates, Jio’s revenues from international roaming are less than half of that of Airtel and Vodafone Idea.
In the paper, Trai was also concerned about automatic activation of roaming because background data usage by installed apps may cause bill shock to users who are not using the phone actively in a foreign land.
Bharti Airtel recommended that IMR service can be kept inactive for postpaid SIMs as these customers check their usage after the bill is generated and are prone to bill shocks, but not for prepaid SIMs where a user pre-pays an amount, according to the subscribed pack of their choice.
Jio said it keeps such service inactive for all users until requested by the user or selection of an IR pack whereas Vodafone Idea said it does so only for its postpaid users and no mandate is required for prepaid SIMs.
Trai had also asked whether the IMR tariff be counted on 24-hour format at first instance of using voice/data/SMS service by a customer rather than a calendar-day format. Telcos argued that such a non-standardized approach will be chaotic to implement and an unaware customer might end up facing more bill shocks.
The telcos also told Trai that they are already following some of its suggestions, such as automatically activating a daily IR pack when standard usage exceeds that limit, and informing customers on reaching 50%, 80%, 90% and 100% usage of their subscribed pack entitlements. These practices do not require any mandate by the authority, TSPs said.