No relief for telcos in call drop

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New Delhi, March 4 (IANS) AThe Supreme Court on Friday refused to pass any interim order on call drop issue as it will hold a hearing on March 10 on a plea by the associations of telecom operators challenging the regulator’s decision to compensate subscribers for call drops.

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) and the Association of Unified Service Provider of India had challenged the Telecom Regulator Authority of India’s (TRAI) October 16, 2015 decision making it mandatory for telecom companies to compensate subscribers from January 1, 2016.

Observing that “prima facie we find nothing ultra vires” about the TRAI’s order, a bench of Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman did not pass any interim order, saying they would hear the matter on March 10 and then decide.

“We will hear you next week (March 10), no interim order”, the court said.

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The associations have challenged the Delhi High Court’s February 29 order upholding the TRAI decision making it mandatory for cellular operators to compensate subscribers for call drops.

As senior counsel Kapil Sibal sought to address the court, the bench observed that call drop was “because of your default and you must pay”.

Sibal told the court if a person is in basement or in an elevator (lift) and calls fail to materialise, then how could service provider be held responsible.

Appearing for the TRAI, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi opposed the plea for interim relief and said: “I am saying there should not be interim order. I have succeeded in the high court. This is in consumer interest.”

Meeting Sibal’s argument of call not getting through in basements and lifts, Rohatgi asked: “How many basements and lifts you have in India.”

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He said that when a person is in basement or a lift, he will not get the signals and that is not a call drop. If you are taking to someone and call gets disconnected, even that is not a call drop, he added.

He said that the call drop is when you dial someone’s number and say hello and even other side says hello, yet no conversation takes and it goes blank.

With the court not passing any interim order, Sibal said there should not be any coercive steps by the regulator against the telecom companies.

As he said that they have been called on March 9, the bench said they can seek an adjournment. “You ask them to adjourn the matter,” the bench told Sibal.

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In its reaction, the COAI said it “expects to approach the TRAI to request that implementation by the industry be kept in abeyance until the Honourable Supreme Court hears and decides on the matter until March 10, 2016”.

The Delhi High Court had on Feb 29 upheld the order of the TRAI making it mandatory for cellular operators to compensate subscribers for call drops, saying the telecom operators would have to compensate subscribers for first three call drops.

The high court order had come as it dismissed the plea of telecom operators for a stay on TRAI’s compensation policy, announced on October 16, 2015, for call drops under which a rupee will be credited to the mobile users’ account for every call drop (restricted to three per day) starting January 1, 2016.

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