New Delhi: Amazon has scuttled a request from telecom service providers to stop the sale of illegal mobile signal boosters on its platform at a time when consumers are grappling with poor quality of wireless services. Its rivals, Walmart-Flipkart and Snapdeal, have removed these products from their websites.
Amazon contended that it is merely an intermediary between the buyer and the seller and should not be held responsible to comply with laws applicable to the respective products.
The US-based online marketplace’s stance has dampened the efforts of telecom operators to crack down on the sale of mobile signal boosters, which they believe are responsible for network interference.
Last month, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) had written to e-commerce majors such as Amazon, Flipkart, and Snapdeal, asking them to immediately stop the sale of the devices, as it was illegal to sell them without a licence from the government. This equipment, COAI said, cause network interference and impact the quality of service to end users.
In separate letters to the e-commerce platforms dated 12 March, the telcos lobby group had argued that under the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, possession and sale of such equipment without a licence from the department of telecommunications (DoT) is a punishable offence.
Such equipment is available at prices upwards of ₹1,500 and is usually used to boost signals in areas of high-density population, leading to more pressure on the already congested mobile networks.
However, Amazon, in its reply to COAI, said that it was “not clear on the legal rationale" of the request to take down these products.
“We understand that these products have licencing requirements. However, we would like to clarify that such obligations rests with the buyer and the sellers and not with the marketplace," Amazon told COAI in a letter dated 2 April.
Mint has reviewed a copy of the letter.
“...as an e-commerce entity operating a marketplace, we merely facilitate the sale transaction between the buyer and seller of goods and services...," it said.
The government has also been stepping up efforts to stop the sale of illegal mobile signal boosters. Telecom minister Manoj Sinha, in a written reply to a query in the Lok Sabha on 2 January, had said that e-commerce companies found to be dealing with "unauthorized" wireless equipment, including the moile signal boosters, had been directed to ensure compliance with the statutory norm.
“A total of 101 notices have been issued to entities or individual users of unauthorized boosters and 63 such boosters have been confiscated and deactivated," Sinha had then informed the House.
In case of wireless equipment, the purchaser needs to obtain a "frequency authorisation/agreement in principle letter" from DoT before purchasing any equipment in the licenced bands, and subsequently a wireless operating licence, on the submission of required documents and spectrum charges, according to law.
Moreover, in case wireless apparatus is required to be imported from abroad, the importing entity needs an import licence, as required under the customs rules, from regional licensing offices of the telecom ministry after submitting necessary fees and documents.
“Amazon operates an online marketplace in India. Sellers selling their products through the amazon.in marketplace are solely responsible for all necessary product compliance and are required to sell products, which are legally allowed to be sold in India. Whenever concerns about the listed products get raised, we review the case with the sellers," a spokesperson for Amazon said in response to an email query by Mint.