Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) told the Supreme Court that private telecom companies had put blinkers on their eyes and were filling up their coffers without augmenting the infrastructure.
Attorney General (AG) Mukul Rohatgi told a bench of justices Kurien Joseph and RF Nariman that TRAI has to safeguard the interest of 100 crore telecom subscribers. He said the penalty imposed on call drop can be done away with if the companies compensate the consumer with equal number of free calls.
Rohatgi cited Telenor’s plan under which the company provides for a free call in lieu of a call drop. However, it is restricted to only Telenor subscribers. The AG said the other operators should consider offering this service to their consumers too. “If they agree to do so, then we are open to considering dropping the penalty,” Rohatgi said.
As per the TRAI regulation, under challenge by the operators, the mobile telecom companies have to pay must credit Rs 1 to a user for every call that ends abruptly due to poor mobile signal, subject to a maximum of Rs.3 per day. The notification was to take effect from 1 January onwards but has been put on hold till the SC verdict. The Cellular Operators Association of India (COA) has challenged the Delhi High Court order declining to set aside the regulation.
Last week Rohatgi had attacked the telecom companies for running a cartel. He said the telcos had invested just 4% to augment infrastructure in India whereas their profits had jumped by 48 %.
TRAI told the court the companies have never agreed to any arrangements it suggested compensating the consumers. Rohatgi claimed the regulator had invited suggestions from the telcos and details were uploaded on its website.
“We suggested the service providers to re-credit the time back to the consumers for the call drop, we asked them to give free calls but every time they say it is not feasible,” Rohatgi said.
The AG said a majority of the call drops are due to poor service. “Sixty-five percent of call drops happen due to poor network,” he argued.
“Total of 96 percent of population is pre-paid customers. Average re-charge per day is Rs 10. More than 60-70 crore people deposit their money in advance with service providers without any interest being paid to them but when we ask these companies to compensate Rs 3 per day for call drops, then they say we can’t do it,” the AG said, defending the regulation.