News : Telcos Shouldn’t Oppose Ombudsman for Consumer Disputes
New Delhi , India, Sept 20, 2016 -- Some officials at the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) are surprised at the resistance of telcos in setting up of an independent ombudsman for consumer redressal, saying that in the present system, there was a conflict of interest as a consumer had no choice but to go to a carrier with complaints.
To be sure, Trai hasn't finalised its views on its ongoing consultation process under which it had sought comments on whether there is a need for an ombudsman to resolve the growing number of customer complaints.
But the officials that ET spoke to said they had hoped the industry would be for a fair system of addressing consumer complaints. Instead, this has emerged as another instance of the regulator and the industry not seeing eye-to-eye on an important consumer issue.
"Why should the telecom operators have an issue with an independent agency deciding upon consumer grievances? At present there is no independent authority subscribers can go to," said a senior official.
The officials' comments come after telcos, who have been warring on a number of issues related to mobile number portability, points of interconnect and public Wi-Fi, were unanimous in their opposition to setting up of an ombudsman to resolve consumer disputes in the sector.
Replying to the consultation paper on the subject, industry associations — the Cellular Operators Association of India as well as the Association of Unified Access Service Providers — had said that a two tier-mechanism already exists to resolve consumer complaints. They were referring to the current mechanism under which the first level of resolving disputes is the call centre set up by the telcos and the second level constitutes going to the appellate authority to deal with individual consumer ..
"This two tier-mechanism of a call centre and the appellate is not independent and it lies within the authority of the telecom service provider who is a party in the matter," another senior official said.
The Trai officials noted that both Australia and the UK have ombudsmen for their telecom sectors to help consumers resolve disputes with service providers, which they are not able to resolve through normal procedures. Besides, ombudsmen in the two nations have the powers to award compensation. Also, the decision of an ombudsman is binding on the service providers.
"They step in when consumers exhausts the complaint redressal procedure of the service providers. They prefer to play the role of a mediator and strive to find an amicable settlement between the consumer and the provider," the paper explained.
The paper and comments comes in the wake of the tussle between the industry and the regulator over call drops, which culminated in the Supreme Court scrapping Trai's directive to telcos to compensate users for failed calls.
Separately, one official said the regulator will also soon float a consultation paper on guidelines around clearly distinguishing the definition of "trial" or test period of telecom services from a "commercial launch" of the services by a service provider.
"We've received a request from the department of telecom." The paper comes after incumbent telcos accused Jio of running commercial operations in the guise of a trial, a charge Jio rejected.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is the independent regulator of the telecommunications business in India.
Published: Thursday, September 22, 2016