Telcos to Refund Overcharged Amount to Consumers: TRAI

On September 11, 2023, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) released the Quality of Service (Code of Practice for Metering and Billing Accuracy) Regulations, 2023, which stipulate that telecom service providers must refund overcharged amounts within three months of audit findings. The said regulations are slated to become operative from April 1, 2024.

The regulations aim to strike a harmonious balance between safeguarding subscriber rights and minimising the compliance burdens placed upon service providers, thereby facilitating a more conducive environment for conducting business.

One of the key differences between the 2006 Regulations and the new regulations is that the former applied selectively to specific service providers, whereas the latter casts a broader net, encompassing all service providers while introducing more lucid licensing prerequisites. In stark contrast to its predecessor, the 2023 Regulations focus on audit and compliance.

Some of the other notable changes introduced under the new regulations are as follows: –

  • Audit Frequency Reduction – The audit frequency for licensed service areas (LSAs) has been reduced, easing the burden of audits on telecom companies, from a quarterly requirement to an annual one.
  • Broadened Audit Scope – The revised standards encompass a broader spectrum of tariff offerings, including international roaming, even for telecom companies with modest subscriber bases, a departure from previous regulations.
  • Auditor Provisions and Time Restriction – The new regulations eliminate self-evaluation provisions for auditors and extend the time limit for providing raw Call Detail Records (CDRs) from 15 to 30 days.
  • Record Retention Period – To enhance business efficiency and ensure regulatory compliance, the new regulations introduce a record retention period of one year.
  • Annual Audits – Telecom providers are mandated to undergo annual metering and billing system audits per the 2023 quality of service requirements.
  • Involvement of TRAI-Notified Auditors – The performance of these audits is entrusted to auditors notified by TRAI, signifying TRAI’s active participation in their selection and approval.
  • Monetary Penalties for Non-Compliance – Failure to adhere to audit requirements or inability to submit audit reports can result in monetary penalties of up to Rs. 50 lakhs per report for telecom businesses.
  • Submission of Annual Audit Schedule – Telecom businesses must furnish an annual audit schedule to TRAI, identifying the billing systems and LSAs earmarked for audit.
  • Reporting Overcharging – The provisions require consumers to report instances of overcharging to the service provider in writing within a week to facilitate prompt corrective action.
  • Auditor Reporting Delays – Telecom companies are shielded from punitive measures for auditor-induced delays in sharing audit details, as the onus for timely reporting rests squarely with the auditors.