It’s imperative that telecom service providers ensure hassle-free and prompt service to their customers

According to a recent study, a quarter of all urban mobile phone users in India have some problem or the other with their telecom service provider, the most common issues being those related to network, billing and charging, customer service, unsolicited calls / messages, bad experiences at the operators’ stores or in accessing their website. The study also reveals that many issues are not being reported as the customer does not want to go through the hassle of contacting the service provider.

Invasion of privacy is a major irritant to customers, and to effectively regulate unsolicited commercial calls (UCC) and messages, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) notified a set of regulations to protect the interests of consumers. Though this came into force in 2011 and was publicised, not many consumers are aware of it. They are not aware of the ‘Do Not Disturb’ portal either, which would put an end to the said nuisance. Under the regulations, customers (both landline and mobile phones), who do not want to receive commercial communications, are required to dial or send an SMS to 1909 (toll-free) and register in either the ‘Fully Blocked Category’ that stops all commercial calls / messages or the ‘Partially Blocked Category’, that stops all commercial calls / messages except SMS from the opted preferences.

If a consumer receives unwanted calls / messages even after seven days of registration, he / she can register a complaint with the service provider within three days of the receipt of such UCC by dialling or sending an SMS to 1909. Customers will have to provide the telephone number or the header of the message from where the call or message was received, a short description of such a call or message along with the date of the receipt of the call or message. Appropriate action should be taken by the service provider and the complainant informed within seven days of lodging the complaint. More often, it is from unregistered telemarketers that these messages originate from, and TRAI has tried to firm up the system by amending the regulations where, apart from penalties, it provides for disconnection of all telecom resources of such organisations if they are found to be engaged in telemarketing through unregistered telemarketers.

Recently, we came to know about the disturbing way in which a financial institution was handling the case of a loan repayment defaulter. The debtors’ close associates, including his family and friends, whose numbers he had been calling frequently from his phone were being called and asked for details about them. They were also informed that he had not settled dues and advised to ask him to make payments. This not only amounts to harassment, but, the most worrisome question is, from whom and where the financial institution got the phone numbers of his family members and friends. Here, not only is the individual’s privacy compromised, but also those of his associates.

Realising the seriousness of the issue, it is important for the stakeholders concerned to take a more lawful approach and deal with such matters in an open manner so that innocent people are not harassed.

(The writer works with CAG, which offers free advice on consumer complaints to its members. For membership details / queries contact 2491 4358 / 2446 0387 or helpdesk@cag.org.in)