M. Dinesh Varma
Subscribers, consumer groups got a crack at grilling major telecom players
Chennai: Are telephone bills an exercise in opaque arithmetic, do private mobile operators promise the moon but deliver only the eclipsed version and are customer care centres just sweet-talking ‘faceless entities’ that fail as a troubleshooting interface?
Subscribers and consumer advocacy groups on Thursday got a rare — for most their first — crack at grilling company representatives of all major telecom players at a workshop initiated by the Civil Supplies and Consumer Protection Department.
But, through the debate and the barrage of criticism on deficient services, the service providers maintained that subscribers were their raison d’être and promised to raise customer satisfaction levels.
In fact, the stated policy of several companies is to place the subscriber on lifecycle management to retain long-term loyalty.
An important outcome of the meeting was the consensus to have quarterly meetings between service providers and consumer groups in order to resolve larger grievances of users.
A key participant was the delegate from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), which has set off the first wave of reforms in the telecom sector. TRAI’s adviser (Quality of Service) M. C. Chaube foresaw a crucial role for consumer advocacy groups against the projected expansion of the telecom subscriber base in the country to around 500 million by 2010. These groups will have to proactively engage themselves in resolving common grievances in such a scenario, he said.
Among the TRAI directives that come into effect soon are transparent billing that includes details of distance calls, the contact details of an empowered Nodal Officer to settle grievances and the establishment of a National Do-Not Call Registry to enable subscribers to opt out of unsolicited promotional calls.
“A high proportion of subscriber complaints pertain to metering and billing costs,” Mr. Chaube said.
Among the recent TRAI measures, according to the TRAI adviser, is the drafting of the ‘Telecom Consumers Protection and Redressal of Grievances Regulations, 2007’ that makes it mandatory for service providers to include in the bill from August details such as applicable tariff plan, credit limit, security deposit and procedures regarding payments of bills.
As part-facilitator, part-regulator, TRAI has adopted a ‘middle path’ approach in the price-quality trade-off that is inevitable in developing economies, Mr. Chaube said. The dual approach of fixing limits on some telephony aspects but leaving operators free to determine tariff plans has contributed to the plummeting call costs in the country — in fact, call costs in India are now the lowest in the world.
The flip side of the unprecedented growth in mobile telephony in India has been the spate of complaints about the service provided by operators, said L. N. Vijayaraghavan, Commissioner of Civil Supplies and Consumer Protection.
The subscribers’ grouse ranged across connectivity issues, call drops and network congestion apart from lack of billing transparency and delay in grievance redressal.
Call for evaluation
He called for a thorough evaluation of the reasons for the mismatch between the bottomline of service providers — growth in revenue — and consumers — transparent tariffs and improved services.
Among those who participated were S. Chandramohan, joint commissioner, Civil Supplies, G. Selvam, K. Chandran and R. Sureshkumar of BSNL, David Joseph Paul of Airtel, K. S. Kalyan Krishnan of Aircel, Athmanantha Perumal of Tata Indicom, Rajesh of Reliance Communications, Usha Dinesh of Hutch, Shobha Iyer, deputy director, Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group, P. Duraisangam, chairman, Consumer Coordination Council, New Delhi, and T. Sadagopan, coordinator, Thiruvallur District Consumer Information Centre.