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Want a new phone number? It might come at a cost as TRAI mulls fee

June 13,2024

Indians might have to dial up their phone expenses. If a new proposal by telecom regulator Trai (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) gets the green light, your smartphone and landline numbers will soon come with a price tag.

Trai feels that phone number “represents an exceedingly valuable public resource which is not infinite” and charges may be imposed on mobile operators, who may subsequently recover them from users.

This move will bring additional trouble for users as Telecom giants Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea (Vi) are pushing customers to switch to tier-based postpaid plans. These plans charge more for users with heavier data usage, helping operators increase their average revenue per user (ARPU), according to analysts and industry insiders.

Trai said just like Spectrum, ownership of the numbering space resides with government, which only grants mobile operators usage rights over the designated number resource during the tenure of licences. The new Telecom Law, which was passed in December last year, also has an enabling provision to charge for numbers, technically known as ‘telecom identifiers’.

Mulling over the possible methods of charging, Trai said the government can look at either imposing a one-time charge per number, or seek an annual recurring charge for each numbering resource allocated to the service provider, or allocate numbering series, with govt conducting centralised auctions for the vanity numbers.

It is also considering whether to impose penalties on operators, who are holding on to number resources with low utilisation. For instance, a subscriber might have dual SIMs and not use one for a long period, but the operator avoids cancelling the number to retain its user base.

“Simply adhering to strict criteria for assigning numbering resources might not ensure judicious and efficient use of freely allotted numbering resources by service providers. One way of ensuring judicious and efficient use of any finite public resource is by imposing charges, while allocating it. Efficient utilisation can be further ensured by introducing penal provision for those holding numbering resources with low utilisation,” said Trai.

Trai, which has to submit recommendations to govt that will also cover the aspect of ever-shrinking numbering resources in the era of 5G, machine-to-machine communications and internet of things, is also taking a leaf out of the several auctions that mobile operators carry out for ‘vanity/fancy/premium numbers’.

To make a stronger case for fixing a charge on mobile operators, Trai cited several countries where a fee is levied for telephone numbers, either on the mobile operator or on subscribers. These include countries such as Australia, Singapore, Belgium, Finland, the UK, Lithuania, Greece, Hongkong, Bulgaria, Kuwait, Netherlands, Switzerland, Poland, Nigeria, South Africa, and Denmark.

The regulator’s deliberations to charge telecom companies for numbering resources allocated to them will not solve the problem of inefficient use of mobile connections, but will result in the cost being passed on to users, industry executives said.

A better solution for the challenges would be for the regulator to define ‘inactive connection’ and a cut-off period within which these numbers should be reallocated, an industry executive said.

Source: Economic Times

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