Call drops bad, more regulation worse

In the case of the call drop issue being deliberated by the telecom regulator, telcos can expect to pay for poor quality of service


The government and the telcos have been at loggerheads due to the severe drop in quality of service over the past few months. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
The government and the telcos have been at loggerheads due to the severe drop in quality of service over the past few months. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

In Harper Lee’s cult classic To Kill A Mockingbird, the fact that the jury took a longer than usual time, gave Atticus Finch hope of a favourable verdict. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on where one stands, in the case of the call drop issue being deliberated by the telecom regulator, given that the recommendations are expected in a fortnight—probably the shortest time taken by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) for any issue— telcos can expect that they will have to pay for poor quality of service.

The government and the telcos have been at loggerheads due to the severe drop in quality of service over the past few months. The telcos have a number of justifications—the unfounded fear of cancer-causing radiation from towers, the arbitrary sealing of towers by municipal corporations and the lack of adequate spectrum, among others. The government disagrees.

Which then brings us to the issue of compensation for call drops—the issue that Trai is deliberating—in what is expected to be the fastest-ever deliberation. The telcos, for obvious reasons, oppose the idea of compensation. And it’s not just the private operators but also state-run MTNL and BSNL that have warned against such regulations.

The issue has come to a point where every observer, expert and general thinker is trying to find how telcos profit from call drops. One can argue that since less than half the user base is on a per second billing plan, and is still on a minute plan, it means a greater outgo. But then, it’s up to the user to switch to the cheaper billing plan, isn’t it?

Another argument is that the telcos aren’t using the spectrum efficiently enough. Again, the same argument comes in—why would they not try their best? That would just be bad business.

In a sector where less than half the 13 telcos are profitable, and the industry, as a whole, has 2-3 times debt to revenue, how else would one get some of the cheapest tariffs in the world with some of the most expensive spectrum?

The argument for disincentivization does make sense though, since the services are just that bad. Uninor, now called Telenor India, does have a scheme where it reimburses a minute for every call drop. But then, what is stopping a prepaid user—more than 95% of the 980 million mobile phone users in the country—from going into the basement of a building to get an extra minute? I would have done that in college.

MTNL and BSNL have suggested that the government leave it up to the telcos to reimburse the user. That is probably the best way to go, in my opinion. After all—all 11 telcos in the country can’t be equally bad.

At the end of the book—the jury does convict Tom Robinson—wrongly though.

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