Call drop penalty takes effect from January 1, industry upset (Roundup)

New Delhi, Oct 16 (IANS) India’s telecom watchdog on Friday said mobile phone operators have to compensate subscribers on call drops from January 1 next year at the rate of a rupee for each such failure — a decision that has left the industry upset with legal help kept as an option.

A notification from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) said the calling consumer will get a credit of Re.1 per call drop, limited to three such occurrences per day in a 24-hour cycle. Following that, the mobile operators have to send them an SMS within four hours.

The regulator also defined what constituted such a failure.

“Call drops means a voice call which, after being successfully established, is interrupted prior to its normal completion – the cause of the early termination being within the network of the service provider.”

The watchdog said it had examined the representations of telecom operators who maintain that some issues like poor spectrum allocation and difficulties in setting up towers that were beyond their control and contributing to call drops.

It said it was for this reason that the authority has kept the compensatory mechanism simple so that the consumers understand the same easily, and the operators are able to implement it as well.

But the representative body, Cellular Operators Association of India (COIA) said the watchdog has not defined the cause or the reason for the dropped calls.

“As per the norms, operators need to ensure 90 percent coverage of district headquarters and 30 percent over blocks. There is no regulation to guarantee coverage in buildings,” COAI chief Rajan Mathews said, alluding that the industry was adhering to these norms in the best possible manner.

“Our first preference is to engage in a dialogue with TRAI to get clarifications over call drop norms, keeping in mind there is time till December 31. But if no proper resolution comes out of the dialogue, we will have to seek legal help to protect our interests,” he said.

He said this was not the way forward and that operators should be provided the assistance needed to set up telecom towers. “If this is done, I can fix the call drop issue in 90 days,” Mathews said, adding the local authorities had made the industry give up 350 towers in Delhi alone.

The effective date for call drop compensation comes a day after the watchdog doubled the penalty for poor quality service and said an operator will now be fined up to Rs.1 lakh for the first non-compliance of benchmarks in a quarter compared to Rs.50,000 earlier.

It also said the non-compliance, benchmarked on some 15 parameters under technical and customer care categories, in two or more consecutive quarters will result in a penalty up to Rs.1.5 lakh and a fine up to Rs. 2 lakh.

If the telecom operators do not meet the benchmarks, companies like Airtel, Reliance and Idea could end up paying around Rs.2.3 crore, Rs.1.9 crore and Rs.80 lakh respectively, taking into account a scenario that only 10 percent of their subscriber base face only one call drop a day.

Airtel, Reliance and Idea have 23.29 crore, 10.99 crore and 8.33 crore subscribers respectively.

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