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Editorial

Dropping the penny

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By EMN Updated: May 30, 2016 12:01 am
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The Supreme Court of India, in a recent ruling, overturned the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) regulation imposing mandatory compensation by telecom service providers to subscribers for call drops. This has once again brought to surface the need for an appropriate policy response to this problem, which is more than just an irritant. Because it pinches the subscribers’ pockets as well. So what exactly are dropped-calls?  In telecommunications, the dropped-call rate (DCR) is the fraction of the telephone calls which, due to technical reasons, were cut off before the speaking parties had finished their conversational tone and before one of them had hung up (dropped calls). This fraction is usually measured as a percentage of all calls. So besides losing the money spent on the dropped-call, subscribers are forced to make new calls which incur more charges. The menace of call drops has become one of the biggest problems for the 900 million-odd mobile subscribers in the country in recent times, forcing even Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene last year. To discourage this practice, the TRAI had proposed to penalise telecom companies Re1 per call drop up to a maximum of three call drops per day. The incurred penalty would then be credited to the calling customer’s account. But then again, even popular measures must be founded on fairness. This is the reason behind the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the TRAI order as arbitrary. The apex court pointed out that the existing standards for quality of service prescribes that call drops cannot exceed two per cent of all calls. Nine of the 12 service providers told the court that their call drops had not exceeded this two per cent benchmark. By this logic, there was no reason for TRAI to impose the penalty. The Supreme Court also sought for the rationale behind the charging of Re 1 as penalty and restricting it to only three call drops per day. It wanted to know how this would represent help or fairness to the subscribers. The knock-out punch came from the telecom companies with their assertion that the licence conditions did not have specific provisions to fix no-fault liability, and that the penalty was a violation of the contract. In addition, the apex court also had a word for the government on letting regulators like TRAI to frame independent subordinate legislations.  But in the aftermath, the TRAI has maintained that the current norms are “inefficient” to provide any relief to consumers and that it will finalise its position in two weeks time. The telecom companies had pointed fingers at the government for not realising adequate spectrum. And the government had criticized the companies for diverting excess spectrum to data and neglecting voice calls. So while the sparring looks set to commence soon again, it is without doubt that call drops are much higher than the two per cent benchmark in some sectors, even within the same service area. So unless the TRAI or the telecom ministry make public all information on the geographical coverage of mobile towers, call quality and broadband speeds in smaller geographical units at all locations – the blame game will continue.

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By EMN Updated: May 30, 2016 12:01:59 am