News : Telecom Companies Oppose Trai Plan to Set Up Ombudsman to Resolve Consumer Disputes
New Delhi, India, Sept 15, 2016 -- Mobile phone operators have opposed the telecom regulator's proposal of setting up of an ombudsman to resolve consumer disputes, saying that the mechanism that already exists to address complaints is adequate.
Besides, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) by itself doesn't have the powers to set up an ombudsman, telecom industry bodies — Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) and the Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India (AUSPI) — said in a joint response to the regulator's consultation paper on the matter.
In fact, this was a rare occasion of unanimity in a sector which has been bitterly divided off late on various issues, prominently being interconnect issues, with the top three operators Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular on one side, with new entrant Reliance Jio Infocomm on the other.
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"The two-tier consumer complaint redressal, as stipulated by Trai is an adequate mechanism to address the issue of complaints raised by the consumers," the telcos said. 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 grievances. The appellate authority is the Telecom Disputes Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT).
Telcos have argued that the regulator by itself cannot set up an ombudsman. "Also, as acknowledged by Trai in the paper, the office of ombudsman will require necessary legal backing, through legislation or a statute," the telcos said. "In light of above we submit, that the issue may be examined first on the existing legal framework/ statutory backing aspects. Trai should allow the existing established system, which is working effectively, to continue."
The telcos were responding to the paper floated by Trai after the Supreme Court had struck down a consumer redressal mechanism mandated by the sectoral watchdog.
The regulator had mandated telcos to pay a compensation of Rs 1 per call with a maximum of Rs 3 a day for each call dropped owing to a technical glitch on the part of telcos.
The responses also come at a time when the department of telecom (DoT) is considering a proposal made by the regulator to give it more powers as it attempts to regulate the highly-litigated sector.
The regulator had proposed the setting up of an ombudsman along the lines of the banking and the insurance sector. However, telcos have said these sectors do not have a two-tier redressal mechanism like the telecom sector already possesses.
The ombudsman, telcos have contended, is the intermediary available to the customer in addition to the systems maintained by telecom service providers and the normal legal recourse available under the law.
"In the case of telecoms, this intermediary role is fulfilled by the Appellate Authority as prescribed under Regulation," the two associations have argued.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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