Saturday, September 23rd, 2017
Home »Telecommunication » Pakistan » PTA acts to protect cellphone users against ‘bill shock’
Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) is all set to bind Cellular Mobile Operators (CMOs) to implement a standard system, whereby mobile users will be notified for reaching package/offer credit limit and application of default rate to save cellular mobile users from 'bill shock', it is learnt.

The PTA believes that international roaming of data service should be stopped by CMOs, and CMOs shall inform all subscribers that they are encouraged using a local connection of their destination while traveling, which is much cheaper than the international roaming rates.

The cellular mobile subscribers do not receive prior notification on reaching balance/usage/time limit of subscribed packages/offers for both voice and data and are automatically switched to default rates for the services subscribed; therefore, they receive bill shocks. According to the PTA, the bill shock has become a common problem in local cellular mobile segment, whereby terms like billing discrepancies, wrong billing and overcharging are interchangeably used by subscribers when they suddenly receive a very high bill. A subscriber, who has no track of his package/offer/time limit, while using services ends up with huge bills as default/basic rate is automatically applied after the package/offer/time limit is ended. The users find it very stressful and difficult to pay such high bills, often leading to complaints to CMOs, PTA and other government offices.

In case of international roaming, the subscriber has to pay different charges for making (local and international outgoing) and receiving (local and international incoming) calls. CMOs are charging their subscribers Rs 110 to Rs 130 per minute for local outgoing calls in United Arab Emirates while on roaming in United Arab Emirates (UAE) whereas Etisalat (local operators of UAE) is charging Rs 17.21 per minute for local outgoing calls. For receiving incoming calls while roaming in UAE, CMOs are charging Rs 83 to Rs 92 per minute whereas incoming calls are totally free for using local SIM in UAE. Outgoing SMS while on roaming costs around Rs 63 to Rs 75 per SMS, whereas Etisalat is charging Rs 5 and Rs 17 respectively for local and international outgoing SMS. Similarly, roaming rates for data services offered by respective CMOs are exorbitantly high and the roamers are generally not aware of these excessive charges.

According to the documents, a large number of complaints on the issue of higher bill are being received at the PTA in which subscribers are aggrieved of excessive/wrong billing and abrupt deduction of balance. These complaints are forwarded to CMOs for redressal. However, CMOs claim that billed amount is correct since the package/offer was exhausted and the subscriber went automatically on default/base tariff which is manifolds higher as compared to the subscribed package/offer.

Furthermore, majority of subscribers is not aware of the default/basic rates which are levied by the CMOs for data services. In case of international roaming, a subscriber has been billed Rs 1 million on account of data usage for a short time. Generally, CMOs compensate the aggrieved subscribers in case of excessive use of data because of the inability of subscribers to pay such high bills. However, this practice is difficult to continue and not sustainable for CMOs in the longer period and adds to unsatisfied subscribers.

The issue of higher billing has also been raised at the government level whereby the Senate and National Assembly have also directed the PTA to protect consumers from wrong/ excessive billing and ensure international standards of service delivery. The PTA is of the view that standardized information /alert/notification system should be followed by all CMOs, so that issue of unexpected bills can be curtailed/ controlled.

Currently, some CMOs are sending text/dialogue box/SMS to the subscribers when they are reaching/exhausting their limit of the package/offer and subsequently charging of default rate thereon which ranges between Rs 1/MB to Rs 12/MB (excluding tax). However, this is not the solution to the problem of huge bills being faced by the subscribers. A better and more logical solution is that the service shall stop automatically when the credit is used up.

A number of operators across the globe are providing facility of notifying/alerting their consumers of their remaining credit balance (in dollars or their respective currencies) after every call, SMS and data usage like in Australia, Nigeria, United Kingdom and United States of America.

It has been observed that CMOs in Pakistan are not informing their users (prepaid, postpaid) about remaining credit balance in rupees, minutes (talk time), SMS and data (MBs, GBs) either in the form of text message, dialogue box or end of day usage SMS as per international best practices and saving cellular mobile users from experiencing any bill shocks.

The PTA firmly believes that international roaming of data service should be stopped by the CMOs and the CMOs shall inform all subscribers that they are encouraged using a local connection of their destination, while traveling which is much cheaper than the international roaming rates. In his regard, the PTA intends to standardize the practice of informing its users about reaching balance/usage/time limit for subscribed service.

The PTA has prepared a consultation paper on avoiding bill shock to cellular mobile users through notification for reaching package/offer credit limit and application of default rate. The purpose of the consultation is to save cellular mobile users from bill shocks they experience when a subscribed package is exhausted and the current system allows them to continue to use the data service both locally (which should not be the case) and voice and data services while on international roaming.

The PTA desires that all CMOs shall implement a standard system whereby they shall inform the remaining credit in rupees or the remaining balance of voice minutes, SMS and MBs after every call, SMS and data usage.

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