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Experts divided on allowing TRAI to penalise Indian telcos for call drops

The Indian government will consider the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's proposal 'with an open mind' if it comes 'in a structured manner'.

The plea made by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) for more powers from the government to penalise errant telecom service providers for call drops has left experts and retired officials of the Department of Telecommunications divided on the issue.

After the Supreme Court set aside TRAI's order asking the telecom companies to compensate the consumers for call drops at the rate of 1 rupee for each call drop, with the upper limit at 3 rupees per day last month, the sector regulator urged the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to amend the TRAI Act to give more powers to deal with such issues. "We have sought powers to levy penalties for consumer redressal," TRAI Secretary Sudhir Gupta told media persons last week.

Two days later, Indian Minister for Communication and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad endorsed the idea by saying he had no objection if the regulator approached the government in a structured manner about the legal architecture. "We will consider the proposal with an open mind," the minister told IANS in an interview last Friday.

TRAI's proposal evoked mixed reactions from the former officials of the telecom sector in India, with some saying that it will not solve the problem while others contended that TRAI needed them to control the situation.

BK Syngal, former chairman and managing director of the state-owned Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL), said that TRAI can ask for powers but it should also think about executing them in a judicious manner.

"Imposing a penalty for call drops is not the right approach as such provisions are part of the licence agreements issued to telecom companies by the government and the latter has to enforce them so that they can be defended better in a court of law. There are built-in mechanisms to take action against poor quality of service rendered by these companies," he told ZDNet.

"As a licensee, the government should amend the law so that the operators become more attentive. It is the consumer who provides a lifeline to them and they cannot be taken for a ride by the telcos," he added.

Referring to TRAI's recent test drive in Delhi in which all companies failed to meet the prescribed standards with respect to call drops, Syngal said that the telcos are to be blamed equally for the mess as they were aware of the areas in the national capital, where the quality of service was poor, but did not develop the infrastructure needed to prevent the problem.

"The industry should learn to grow up and instead of coming out with a list of demands regularly, they should do soul-searching and rectify the drawbacks in the system," Syngal added.

However, NK Goyal, president of Communication Multimedia and Infrastructure (CMAI), which is India's largest association for ICT, felt that the regulator should be provided with powers to reign in the telecom service providers.

"If the terms and conditions were specified at the time of issuing licences to the companies, then who is monitoring them? TRAI's job is to do the follow-up and it is imperative the regulator is empowered," Goyal said.

Call drops has been a major issue for the consumers who were facing much difficulty in communicating with others but the operators were justifying the call drops for one reason or the other. "The Supreme Court has dismissed TRAI's order because it had no powers to take action against the operators," he added.