New Delhi: With cellphone companies purging a few million customer accounts to comply with a Union government directive on discontinuing services of subscribers whose information has not been verified, complaints regarding unwarranted deactivations and delays in putting the users back on the network are mounting, at least anecdotally.
While some consumers complain that their connections were terminated without any notice, other subscribers say they cannot get through to the phone firms to receive information on how to reactivate their connections.
The companies, meanwhile, maintain that they either called or sent text messages to customers about the impending action.
Operators had taken out newspaper advertisements asking barred users to approach them with documents.
But consumers, who had submitted their documents while subscribing to connections, were reluctant to submit these again. “When I called them, they said my documents were ‘unavailable,’” said R. Ramanathan, a bank employee from Mumbai. “So, I asked, what does unavailable mean? Have you lost it? If so, tell me.”
Ramanathan, a subscriber of Reliance Communications Ltd, initially refused to submit the documents again, but gave in after remaining disconnected for two weeks.
Ramanathan, one of several barred users who wrote to Mint this week, said he had to send nearly 40 emails over alomst a month to get his connection reactivated. However, his wife’s connection was re-established much sooner. Reliance Communications reactivated it in a few hours after Ramanathan contacted the company’s customer care, he said.
A Reliance Communications spokeman said the company’s policy on disconnections was to first intimate the customer through phone calls and text messages. He said no de-activations were done without informing the subscriber first. “Why would any operator want to lose a customer in a competitive market?” he asked.
Indeed there are no real figures that indicate the extent of such problems in the industry other than anecdotal evidence from individual users.
Mint, for instance, has received reader emails complaining of arbitrary disconnections by several operators. One email is from a retired colonel, Pradeep Kala. A Delhi resident, Kala, who has been using a pre-paid connection from Bharti Airtel Ltd, for six years, says it took eight days to get his connection reactivated after it was abruptly cut without any warning on 2 April.
Kala says he took pains to reach the operator’s customer-care department.
“I tried dialling the short code from my handset, but that was also barred,” he says, “and there was no customer-care number on the website.”
Bharti said it was merely complying with the government directive that a deactivated customer be completely taken off the network, which included calls to customer care helplines.
“We have complied with the process of verification...During this process, we have regularly reminded our customers through SMSs, auto diallers and advertising material to submit their documents before the deadline,” wrote a company spokesman in an email. “The contact number of our helpline is clearly mentioned across all our relationship centres and in the initial purchase kit. Once the documents have been validated at our end, the customer’s mobile connection is activated immediately.”
But, of the six biggest mobile-phone operators, this reporter got through to the customer-care departments of just two—Tata Teleservices and Idea Cellular—despite many attempts.
“We have long been demanding a regulation that would put a proper framework in place for dealing with consumer grievances,” says Sriram Khanna, coordinator for National Consumer Helpline (NCH), a consumer rights organization.
Khanna said NCH will check on operators logging off ‘life-time’ pre-paid subscribers, who pay a one-time fee of around Rs1,000 and get guaranteed incoming calls for 20 years. This pricing plan is seen as being less profitable for most companies. Indian cellular firms have disconnected over five million customers after the verification exercise. The department of telecommunications had asked them to complete the process by 31 March, fearing misuse of cellphones by criminal elements.