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Telecom sector to get ombudsman to handle consumer grievances

twitter-logo PTI        Last Updated: May 1, 2018  | 22:42 IST

New Delhi, May 1 (PTI) In a move aimed at empowering mobile consumers, the Telecom Commission today cleared a proposal for creation of an ombudsman under the sector regulator to resolve subscriber complaints.

The apex decision making body of the telecom ministry said necessary amendments will be initiated in TRAI Act for effective enforcement of the new complaint redressal mechanism.

Besides the present mechanism of registering complaint with telecom operators, consumers can now approach consumer courts seeking relief for their grievances and thereafter also approach the proposed ombudsman for redressal of their complaints, Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan told reporters.

"Grievance redressal in the telecom sector has been a long-pending demand and a lot of the Parliamentary Standing committees have also raised this issue...We get 10 million grievances and complaints per quarter.

"The current mechanism is that the operators have a mechanism internally to deal with complaints and after that it comes to the grievance redressal of telecom department. But this has not been fully satisfactory. What is being proposed is a three-tier mechanism," Sundararajan said.

Telecom grievances mechanism till date has largely remained within control of service providers. Under present the norm, telecom subscribers can register complaint with call centre of their service provider. It can be escalated to nodal officer of the telecom operator in case the complaint is not resolved and thereafter Appellate Authority set-up by the service provider.

In most of the cases, specially billing disputes, consumers complained of getting no relief from the three levels.

Earlier, a ruling of the Supreme Court in 2009 was interpreted that section 7B of the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 barred a consumer from seeking remedy under the Consumer Act. The complaint thus remained limited between the subscriber and the telecom company.

Sundararajan said the rules have been amended to enable consumers approach Consumer Grievance Redressal Forum.

"The consumer can choose to move to consumer grievance redressal forums...On top will be a telecom ombudsman, that has been approved. The Ombudsman will be created by Trai," she said.

Trai has recommended that Ombudsman should have the power to award compensation to the consumer, award costs and issue directions to the telecom service providers for the performance of specific obligations.

As per the decision of Telecom Commission today, the Ombudsman will be created by Trai, which in turn will be vested with more powers to for effective enforcement of the new complaint redressal system.

"Ombudsman will be created by Trai. Trai had said they do not have powers to create them. Therefore, it is now proposed to give them the powers to create an ombudsman ...This will bring in much better and more satisfactory grievance redressal system in the telecom sector," Sundararajan said.

The regulator will be free to set up as many ombudsman as per requirement, she said adding that the regulator can choose to have one ombudsman per operator or per region.

"It (creating ombudsman) will require amendments in the TRAI Act," Sundararajan said.

Asked about the timeline for the new system to come into place, Sundararajan said that it will be done on "priority basis".

On whether the amendment to TRAI Act will enable the regulator to penalise erring telecom service providers, she said, "It will be have to be worked out by Trai but obviously it will have to be an effective ombudsman".

Telecom operators industry body COAI said that since overall complaints are miniscule in comparison to the subscriber base and the rupee values are not very large, existing mechanism of compliant redressal is adequate.

"We are not sure as to how setting up of an Ombudsman will add further value to the existing system of compliant redressal. Moreover, we believe TRAI currently does not have adjuratory powers to act as Ombudsman and this will need to be addressed in the context of the Telecom Act 1885 under which TSP Licenses are granted," COAI Directer General Rajan S Mathews said.

Besides the decision taken by the Telecom Commission on Ombudsman, there were expectation that it will decide net neutrality and allocation of backhaul spectrum in the E & V bands.

Sundararajan said that these issues were not taken up in the meeting today.

Mathews said that COAI is disappointed that no decision has been taken by Telecom Commission with respect to the allocation of E&V Bands as allocation of these bands at affordable prices can be a boon for the better customer experience.

"COAI is of the view that as India is expanding coverage and capacities for 4G in urban cities and taking broadband to rural India, these frequencies should be allocated immediately. These bands should be provided as a backhaul spectrum to the TSPs (telecom service provider) who validly hold access spectrum," Mathews said.

Telecom operators have been demanding allocation of E&V band to connect signals between mobile towers as it becomes difficult and sometime very expensive to connect cell sites with cables. PTI PRS MBI PRS BAL BAL

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