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Last Updated : May 18, 2018 09:42 AM IST | Source:

INTERVIEW: TRAI chief wants to address call drop issue despite telcos seeking leniency

The TRAI chairman scoffed at suggestions that the regulator should take a pragmatic view on call drops, and brushed aside views that an Ombudsman was unnecessary.

Dhirendra Tripathi @dtrips

For Ram Sewak Sharma, the Chairman of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, most issues come down to the consumer, the subject he guards most passionately and is most eloquent about.

In an interview to Moneycontrol, Sharma said call drops struck at the heart of the consumer and made for a powerful consumer issue. He said call drops were not a "theoretical construct", but quite a practical problem.

The TRAI chairman scoffed at suggestions that the regulator should take a pragmatic view on call drops, and brushed aside views that an Ombudsman was unnecessary.

Sharma, who will be retiring in August, has time and again taken on companies over the menace of call drops. He and his team could easily walk away with the credit for the government’s May 1 decision to approve the setting up of an Ombudsman, years after the regulator first sent the proposal.

The office of Ombudsman, which will be set up under the Telecom Authority of India with an aim to resolve consumer grievances, will be technology driven, Sharma said. He dismissed the argument that complaints of mobile users could be treated as minor ones, just because they involved small sums of money and because users had the option to port out to another mobile company.

Speaking to Moneycontrol's Dhirendra Tripathi, Sharma talked about issues pertaining to quality of service, data privacy and spectrum pricing, among other topics. Here are the edited excerpts:

Q: An industry body recently suggested that TRAI should take a pragmatic view on call drops and other consumer grievances. What is your view? 

A: TRAI has always taken a pragmatic view. In our view, consumer issues and the call drops and the quality of service are not some theoretical constructs. They are actually very, very practical problems. So the views on these problems are also practical views, not some theoretic constructs. It is the consumer that we will continue to guard. Consumer issues are not minor issues. Consumers' issues are extremely powerful issues.

Q: There is a view that consumers' grievances are small in nature and the sums involved are also quite meager. Plus, consumers have the choice of porting out their numbers. So is the idea of creating the office of an Ombudsman really necessary?

A: We are not creating a huge infrastructure. In fact, if you read the recommendation, the Ombudsman is supposed to work like a deterrent in some sense because ultimately the quality of complaint resolution currently is not extremely good. Why is it not good? Because the telecom service provider is the first point of authority that will resolve the issue. Then the second one is also controlled and owned by the service provider. So it’s like the party is the judge. There has to be a mechanism whereby if somebody is not satisfied due to these things, then there is an Ombudsman. So that is the concept.

This also we are saying it should be a technology-driven structure. It is not so much like the judicial kind of things. Once you have the data. Here is a sector where everything is logged. So for example if you want to put up a VAS, a value added service, some ringtone, there is a process by which you send an SMS to the service provider. This actually creates a log, which is verifiable. It creates a verifiable technology system and this Ombudsman, somebody cannot resolve this at both levels. Ombudsman can resolve this.

Verification of truth is extremely easy because of the digital footprints of the activities happening there and therefore what we have proposed is essentially an infrastructure which is light in terms of manpower but very, very advanced in terms of technology and technology should become the main level of resolving consumer complaints.

The other point just because the consumer has an exit route through MNP, therefore the consumer complaint should not be addressed is not correct. If somebody has cheated me, somebody tells me you have a recourse. What is the recourse? Get out but if I get out, I will not get my cheated money.

The point is this is not a reason just because somebody has an exit route if he’s not satisfied does not mean that his genuine complaint must be left unresolved because they don’t matter. I think in our view, consumers are extremely important in this entire ecosystem and therefore there has got to be a proper way of resolving their complaints.

Q: You have been a big supporter of Aadhar (Sharma was instrumental in the birth of Aadhaar along with Nandan Nilekani). Data privacy is a big, controversial and sensitive issue everywhere. When will TRAI be framing its proposals on the subject?

A: TRAI is in the final stage of drafting the recommendation on data security and data privacy and data ownership in the telecom space. We will be coming out very soon. As you know, it’s a little evolved subject and evolving also in some sense. It is taking time but we will come out with the recommendations very soon and that will address the issue in at least the telecom space.

And as I have said on earlier occasions, this will go as an input to the Justice Srikrishna committee. They are actually dealing with the larger issue of data protection and privacy in this country.

Q: TRAI has been working on defining a minimum broadband speed on mobile but worldwide, there is no example of such a benchmark existing. Do you really expect to set such a quality standard and by when can we see TRAI formalising this?

A: See, the minimum broadband speed on mobile as you are yourself aware, because it’s a wireless mobile, in a wireless situation, there are points at which the speed can go to zero also. So therefore, when you talk of minimum, minimum is minimum attained at any point in time during the duration of the connection. And that minimum can be zero as well. So one can’t really, so the attempt is not really to define minimum at a point in time.

The attempt is basically to come up with this, come to grips with this problem and then probably think of a time window, average speed in a time window or something of that sort. So some metric which gives us an idea of the speed at which things are happening. We have issued a consultation paper and we are preparing the draft.

Q: The last time a spectrum auction happened, TRAI got a lot of stick for setting a high base price for the 700 Mhz spectrum. You are in the process of setting base prices of several bands of spectrum for the next auction. Will TRAI lower the base price for the next time?

A: Lowering, increasing, fair price, not fair price these are the terms which are very, very subjective. Every price can be branded as very low price or every price can be branded as very high price. There are no yardsticks in some sense of the term. And ultimately please remember, prices are not determined, except the base price, by the TRAI or by the government. They are determined by an auction process which is a legitimate process for allocation of access spectrum, as also upheld by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. Therefore, obviously, auction is the only route for allocation of access spectrum.

The only thing which is in our hands in some sense is the recommendation related to base price. Now we are actually working on that. We are also consulting international experts, international best practices wherever some new bands, for example, are in this time.

700 Mhz was tried last time, it did not sell. Now we have 1300 MHz, 3600 Mhz, some of new bands are coming up for auction and for which we don’t have any base price, any base price experience. So in a way, we are working out with the experts and other consultants to prepare.

TRAI will always get a stick, don’t worry. Even if we say sell it for free, we will get the stick. That’s not the problem. We do our job to the best of our capability. We are also set of human beings, we can’t predict the future or we can’t predict as to how auction will take place or how people will because of the behaviour of participants in an auction is determined by multiple factors. I can’t predict all of them.

We can only have a fair assessment of our assessment. Taking view of our last time’s experience, we are working out the stand we know on these issues.
First Published on May 17, 2018 04:31 pm
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