Pakistan Telecommunication Authority is supposed to be a watchdog body – regulating the telecom playing field in a way that favors end customers and contributes towards the consecutive socio-economic development.
PRS – Premium Rate Service has been an mature service UK and North America. The service allows an enterprise to acquire a special number – typically beginning with 900 or 0900 and set a rate of its own. People who call on this number are billed by their respective operator that tariff. The enterprise owning this PRS number gets paid for when calls are made to this number by its telecom provider. The telecom provider typically keeps an agreed percentage for this service and the burden of bills collection from the end users and interconnecting telcos.
The service is used for a variety of purposes – entertainment being just one of them. There are many uses of PRS in other countries that are yet to be explored in Pakistan such as consultancy services, information provisioning and charity contribution.
Pakistan has mostly seen the use of PRS in the entertainment area. Initially, the PRS rates were as high as Rs 48 per minute. Stories of unsuspecting citizen falling trap to the PRS services (where advertisements seldom makes the rate very clear to the unsuspecting viewers). Later, PTA clamped an upper limit to the maximum per minute charges that could be applied on PRS as Rs 14 per minute.
However, instead of restricting the upper limit of the PRS charges, PTA needs to ensure, by close monitoring, that such services are not put to deceptive usage.
The national FM radio networks have been virtually taken over by Telefun where they sponsor entire shows/days and the RJs are made to repeat the advertisement punch line of Telefun every time they play a song. This is never accompanied by the mandatory warning that should be given out with such messages about the high charges associated with these numbers. PTA clearly is not playing the best watchdog it is supposed to be.
A number of wannabes have joined Telefun in a clear attempt to make use of PTA’s indifference towards this issue. Telemasti and Phonemag are two names that have cropped up lately to claim their share of the loot from the unsuspecting customer base left completely unguarded by the regulator.