Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (Trai) efforts to set up a complaint-redressal system hasn’t gone down well with consumer groups and telecom service providers alike, but for different reasons. The consumer groups believe they are inadequate, while the operators believe them to beunnecessary.
Trai has put out a draft of the rules and system it would like to adopt for the redressal of complaints. This requires companies to have an internal three-tier system to handle complaints. It also lists the circumstances under which consumers can claim compensation: if 19 out of 20 calls to the telecom company’s customer care centre are not answered within the first 90 seconds; if more than three out of 100 calls ‘drop’ due to network problems; or if it takes more than four weeks to resolve a billing dispute.
On Tuesday, the regulator will host an open-house discussion on the issue and then forward its recommendations to the government.
Consumer-rights groups said that the proposed rules confine the dispute settlement process to the telecom operator.
They had asked for an independent, non-service-provider-constituted body.
“Basically, you are saying that if I don’t get my complaint resolved at the call centre, I can approach another company official at the state level and if I don’t get it resolved there also, I can approach the operator’s national complaints-redressal officer,” said S.K.Virmani, advisor for telecom with National Consumer Helpline, a Delhi-based consumer rights organization. “What happens if I can’t resolve it at thatlevel also?”
Virmani criticizes the draft for having no place for a complaint-redressal authority independent of the operator, a proposal shot down by the Union government twice in the past, despite recommendations to the effect from Trai. “Out of the nearly 47,000 calls made to our helpline between March 2005 and January 2006, 20% were about the telecom sector,” Virmani added.
Neither the regulator nor the adjudicatory body above it, the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), are authorized to hear individual cases, as pointed out by Trai itself to explain the creation of the dispute-redressal mechanism within the operators themselves.
Shyamal Ghosh, former secretary to the department of telecommunications, has disputed Trai’s position in a written comment.
He has pointed out that Trai has indirect methods to provide relief to consumers such as recommending action against operators and playing a role in bringing class action law suits against such companies before TDSAT.
“Adequate efforts do not seem to have been made to use the existing provisions to enforce the directives issued by the regulator,” he said inhis note.
Telecom operators don’t like the regulator’s recommendations either.
While the Cellular Operators Association of India, which represents most telcos other than Tata Teleservices and Reliance Communications, has said that Trai “should refrain from issuing a regulation on the subject”, the Association of Unified Service Providers of India (AUSPI) has warned that any such regulation could “complicate the issue or delay the redressal process”.