Photo: Mint
Photo: Mint

Call drop penalty a populist measure: Telcos

Telcos argue that imposing a financial disincentive wouldn't achieve the purpose of improving standards of service

New Delhi: Telecom operators told the Supreme Court on Thursday that levying a penalty for call drops was a populist measure and not aimed at improving services.

Lawyer Kapil Sibal, representing industry body Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), contended that imposing a financial disincentive wouldn’t achieve the purpose of improving standards of service provided by telecom operators.

“The object (of the regulation) is to penalise me to get revenue. It’s a populist measure. Object should be to improve standard of service," Sibal argued.

A bench comprising justices Kurian Joseph and Rohinton F. Nariman was hearing an appeal filed by COAI and the Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India (AUSPI) against a 29 February Delhi high court ruling.

The high court upheld the mandatory imposition of a penalty on telecom companies for three call drops per day per subscriber levied by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).

The apex court asked the 12 telcos to file affidavits detailing whether they had been penalised earlier for call drops and whether they met the 2% call drop rate considered acceptable.

Sibal referred to an expert committee report (relied on by Trai) which said that 36% of call drops were consumer-related, and only 7.6% were due to an abnormal network response.

Saying that there was no way of determining the cause of a call drop, Sibal said that it was unconstitutional to levy a penalty on the presumption that every call drop was attributable to telcos.

By a 16 October Trai notification, telcos have to credit 1 to a user for every call that ends abruptly due to poor mobile signal, subject to a maximum of 3 per day. The notification was to take effect from 1 January.

However, the issue is under litigation, so telcos haven’t made any payment yet, despite the apex court refusing to stay the Delhi high court ruling.

Separately, a survey carried out by Red Mango Analytics, a digital start-up that connects mobile users and telcos, said that 4% of all dropped calls were in poor coverage areas, 59.1% of dropped calls were due to poor quality connections and 36.9% of all dropped calls were due to network faults.

The survey said that the call drop rate was more than the acceptable 2%. “The country at present is experiencing around 4.73% call drops as projected by a study conducted in 20 cities last year," a statement by Red Mango said.

The survey also cited quality of handsets as a major reason for poor quality services. “High range smartphones worth 30,000 and above experienced lowest call drops followed by mid-range smartphones ranging between 21,000-30,000 that experienced up to 22% call drops. Low-end smartphones priced under 20,000 experienced up to 67% more call drops," it said.

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