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Fact-Check: Is TRAI going to charge users for having two SIMs in a phone? Here is how media twisted proposals made in TRAI consultation paper

TRAI proposed to "Impose some financial disincentive (FD) on TSPs who keep holding to X% or more of the allocated TI resources unused beyond a certain time frame. A provision can also be made for TSPs to surrender certain contiguous unutilized numbering resources back to DoT from the allocated numbering resource." It did not say it wants to impose fine for having Dual SIMs.

On 13th June, News24 published a report claiming that if someone has 2 SIM cards in one phone, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) may impose a fine on them. The post on social media further claimed that the fine might be imposed in a one-time-payment format or annually and the mobile operators can recover the charges from the users. The confusing post by News24 caused a major controversy on social media with users accusing TRAI of imposing irrational charges.

Source: X

In a video, News24 explained that if you are using a mobile phone with Dual SIM cards and keeping one SIM inactive, you might have to pay a charge. However, this claim is misleading as TRAI has proposed that it should charge fees for inactive SIM cards to address the issue of inactive SIMs that are not being surrendered back to TRAI by the operators. The report further suggested that TRAI’s data shows over 219 million mobile numbers are inactive, causing a significant problem.

Upon search, we found another report by Navbharat Times on the same lines. According to the report, if you are using a mobile phone with two SIM cards and keeping one inactive, you might have to pay a charge, either as a lump sum or annually. The report suggested that TRAI has proposed the same. It added that mobile operators avoid deactivating unused SIM cards to retain users. However, regulations state that SIM cards not recharged for a long time should be blacklisted. Consequently, TRAI plans to impose fines on operators for not doing so, which might be passed on to users.

Source: Navbharat Times

Navbharat Times had quoted an Economic Times report for suggesting the Dual SIM theory. When we checked ET’s report, it read, “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.” under the section “Unused numbers might face penalties”. Here, “For instance” caught our eye and we dug further to understand where this Dual SIM theory came from. The next step was to check TRAI’s actual document that talked about the proposal.

The proposal was part of the Consultation Paper on Revision of the National Numbering Plan by TRAI that was released on 7th June 2024.

In the consultation paper, there is a section named “Allocation of TI resources on chargeable basis”. Here, TI stands for “telecommunication identifiers”. In simple terms, the phone number or mobile number of SMS Syntax allotted to the user is telecommunication identifier. These are a series of digits, characters and symbols or a combination thereof, used to uniquely identify a user. Under this section, TRAI discussed the scarcity of TI resources in India and ways to rectify the problem.

For those who are unaware, TI resources, which are essentially phone number blocks, are the Government of India’s property. These are allotted to service providers without any cost. The ownership, however, remains with the government. The operators can use these resources only during the tenure of their licenses.

A provision in the Telecommunications Act, of 2023 states that the “Central Government may, subject to such terms and conditions, including fees or charges as may be prescribed, allot telecommunication identifiers for use by authorised entities.” TRAI pointed out that allocation of these resources is chargeable in many other countries and it varies from country to country.

TRAI said that though the numbering system is not a marketable commodity, specific numbers are in high demand as they are referred to as “vanity/fancy/premium” numbers. Telecom Service Providers or TSPs, just like the RTOs, offer these numbers at a premium price.

Considering several aspects of the numbering system and demand, TRAI has proposed to charge for the TI resources. TRAI has proposed to either impose a one-time charge per number or per numbering resource block or impose an annual recurring charge for each numbering resource allocated to the service providers, including deactivated numbers of prior allocation but pending reuse.

Furthermore, TRAI proposed allocating numbering series excluding the vanity numbers for free, with the government conducting centralized auctions for the vanity numbers.

Last, but not the least, the point that resulted in the misleading DUAL SIM theory, TRAI proposed to “Impose some financial disincentive (FD) on TSPs who keep holding to X% or more of the allocated TI resources unused beyond a certain time frame. A provision can also be made for TSPs to surrender certain contiguous unutilized numbering resources back to DoT from the allocated numbering resource.”

We checked the document twice to make sure if there was a mention of charging users for having Dual SIM in their phones and we found not a single reference in TRAI’s document. As mentioned above, ET categorically said “For Instance” which means it was giving just an example or a hypothetical situation.

TRAI never said it would charge for having two SIMs on your mobile phone. TRAI has, however, proposed to charge mobile operators or telecom companies for the inactive numbers that the telecom companies failed to reuse or surrender back to TRAI, which according to law is a must. TRAI believes that if it imposes such a cost, the telecom companies might forward the cost to the users. Thus the agency has sought recommendations and suggestions from the stakeholders.

Furthermore, this is just a consultation paper. It is not the final documentation of the regulations for the National Numbering Plan of the Government of India. It will take more time for the government to decide if it wants to impose the charges on unused or inactive numbers in the future, which is highly unlikely.

Verdict: The reports by News24 and Navbharat Times are misleading. Their reports were based on a hypothetical situation given by the Economic Times report. TRAI has not mentioned anything about phones with DUAL SIMs in the consultation paper.

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B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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