Prasad directs DoT to look into call drop masking tech

Prasad directs DoT to look into call drop masking tech
Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has directed the Department of Telecom to look into the call drop masking technology being used by mobile service providers.

"I have taken up this issue seriously. I have directed that the department (DoT), along with Trai, should take up this issue seriously," Prasad said when asked about the matter.

The call usually gets automatically disconnected in case of the user moving to a poor network area, making it a 'dropped call' under the current regulatory framework.

According to sources, the new technology ensures the call remains artificially connected until the caller or receiver decides to terminate it and the user is billed for the entire duration despite not being able to talk for full or part of the call duration.

Telecom operators are using Radio-Link Technology (RLT), which is helping them mask call drops, while the consumer is being billed for the time he is on the call, although it can be said to be artificially connected to a network, the sources said.

In such cases, the customer often disconnects the call himself, which is not counted in call drops. If the call in such a case is disconnected, the companies continue to charge customers.

"While RLT is helping companies improve their quality of service parameters and revenue, it is also helping them mask the dropped calls," the sources added.

Prasad said that while his department is looking into the issue, the industry has installed about 1 lakh mobile sites in last 8-10 months to improve service quality.

"I am minister for development of telecom and also for telecom consumers. Telecom operators have done good work by expanding services in the country and it is their job to ensure quality of service is good," Prasad said.

The Supreme Court recently quashed a rule of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) which mandated telecom operators to compensate consumers Re 1 for each call drop with upper limit at Rs 3 per day.

Telecom regulator Trai Chairman R S Sharma has said current norms are "inefficient" to provide any relief to consumers and it will finalise in two weeks its "position" in the wake of Supreme Court quashing a penalty provision.

Asked about steps taken by the government to empower consumers, Prasad said: "I think you are talking about the Supreme Court judgement. Trai is considering it. If Trai comes to us with some kind of suggestions on further empowerment of consumers, we will consider it."

At present, disputes between consumers and telecom operators are not taken up by consumer courts as a Supreme Court judgement of 2009 had barred seeking any such relief under the Consumer Protection Act, saying a special remedy is provided under the Indian Telegraph Act.

The National Telecom Policy 2012 envisages "to undertake legislative measures to bring disputes between telecom consumers and service providers within the jurisdiction of consumer forums established under the Consumer Protection Act".

However, it is yet to be executed by the government. Considering that the prevailing structure is not adequate or fully responsive to deal with consumer complaints in the telecom sector, Trai had recommended establishment of an Ombudsman in 2004 which has not fructified till date.

Prasad said that Sanchar Bhawan, which houses the telecom ministry, was a fit "text book case" of policy paralysis earlier and the new government has worked to clear pending policies for development of the sector, including spectrum sharing and trading, full mobile number portability, sharing of active and passive infrastructure, virtual network operators and the like.

"There are eight policy steps that I have taken. Virtual Network Operator is a big changer," Prasad said.

He said the government is going to soon auction 2,100 MHz spectrum which will further help telecom operators in improving service quality.

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