Call drop issue stays sans solution

With the Supreme Court quashing the Telecom Regulatory Authority on India’s (Trai) order imposing penalties on telecom companies for dropped calls, the call drop problem faced by consumers is again wide open. The Trai had asked the operators to compensate consumers at the rate of Re 1 every call from January this year, with a maximum penalty of Rs 3 per day per consumer. The court has found the Trai action arbitrary, as the compensation formula is “unreasonable” and “non-transparent.” It also noted that the operators alone are not responsible for call drops, and there is a provision for 2% call drops in the licence order for the operators. The court observed that the Trai had not taken into consideration its own technical paper which ascribed call drops to a number of reasons. These included paucity of spectrum, radio interference from neighbouring cells, shortage of mobile towers and problems of clearances from multiple agencies and right-of-the-way issues. Telecom companies added battery problems in phones and even manipulation by consumers to these.
While all or most of these may be true, the call drop problem is real and has to be addressed to the satisfaction of consumers. The inconvenience caused to mobile users is serious and frustrating. The financial loss is considerable. While calls are charged on a per-minute pulse, consumers are billed for the full time even when the call breaks in the first few seconds. This happens very frequently. Operators make huge gains from this. It is not just individual consumers who are short-changed. Government initiatives like Digital India will also be affected if the problem persists. The telecom minister had made a lot of noise about it, and it was thought that the Trai intervention would improve matters. But telecom companies are now happy that they have got away without damage. 
Since the consumer has not got any relief, a solution will have to be found taking into consideration all the factors that cause the call drop problem. The court has said that Parliament can enact a call drop compensation rule without detracting from the regulatory powers of the Trai. More spectrum should be made available to the operators, as the problem basically lies in its scarcity. More mobile phone towers have to be put up. The resistance of local residents to the installation of towers and the undue demands made by local authorities for giving clearances will have to be addressed. There is the need for fresh consultations and action in all these areas. Telecom companies will have to be held accountable for any deficiency of service. The consumer wants a solution, not compensation.

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