The Twitter Q&A on #CallDrops with Rajeev Chandrasekhar

The Supreme Court recently struck down the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) Telecom Consumers Protection (Ninth Amendment) Regulations, 2015, which prescribed penalties for call drops on telecom operators.

The apex court brought up a number of issues, including the competence of TRAI to pass these Regulations, and the manifest arbitrariness of the amendment. It was also made clear that the regulator had failed to fulfill its mandate under the TRAI Act, which is to balance the interests of the consumers and the Telcos.

Yesterday, Bar & Bench conducted a live Twitter Q&A with Rajeev Chandrasekhar, founder of BPL Mobile and a Member of Parliament currently serving a second term in the Rajya Sabha. During the course of the session, he shared his views on the judgment, critiqued the existing regulatory framework governing Telcos and suggested how it can be improved.

Here is the transcript of the live Q&A session:

What is your view on the Supreme Court’s decision striking down TRAI’s call drop penalty?

TRAI was attempting a punitive approach to call drops and as the Supreme Court order clearly stated- the process for TRAI wasn’t satisfactory.

The Supreme Court’s order reveals serious flaws in TRAI’s Regulations. This was bound to happen, TRAI has shown two problems, (i) Its inability to have sound regulations and (ii) Weaknesses in the TRAI Act.  As I have been saying for several years, we need reforms of both, TRAI and the TRAI Act.

How would you reconcile the 2% threshold under the Quality of Service Regulations, 2009 (QoS Regulations) and the penalties imposed for call drops?

TRAI/Department of Telecommunication prescribes license conditions required under the QoS Regulations and it is TRAI’s duty to track its compliance. Similarly, QoS is an obligation on the Telcos under license agreement.

Under section 10.4 of the license agreement, licenses can even be revoked if QoS norms are breached or not met by Telcos/Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Therefore, license conditions can be amended to be more explicit about QoS norms and network loading etc.

The Technical paper released by TRAI says that 36.9% of call drops are attributable to the consumer’s fault and only 3 service providers have not met the 2% benchmark. In this light, do you think the 2015 Regulation was justified?

Under section 10.4, licenses can even be revoked if Telcos/ISP breach QoS norms.

The 2015 Regulations are violative of TRAI’s own 2009 regulations which allowed 2% deviation, as has been correctly held by the Supreme Court. Also, TRAI’s data with respect to self-dropped calls didn’t help their case. This is strange; TRAI is contradicting its own rationale for the 2015 Regulations by saying 36.9% call drops are on account of consumers.

This is a serious issue with TRAI in its recent regulations. Its data sets are inconsistent with its regulations and conclusions. I have been saying this for a long time and I reiterate, there’s a serious exercise and cleanup required in TRAI about process of testing and data.

In the past when the whole country was up in arms about call drops, TRAI said all Telcos are compliant with QoS norms. So either the norms have to be fixed or the TRAI’s way of measuring those have to be relooked at along with the resulting data they quote.

The bottom line is – TRAI’s regulations and decisions have to be data led, legally consistent and data they rely on must be sound and real.

The Supreme Court held that 2015 Regulations do not encourage the “orderly growth of the telecom sector”. Do you agree?

The point is that TRAI and its regulations must be sound and consistent and not so perplexingly inconsistent with its own reports/data. Both investors and consumers expect steady, reasoned and consistent approach by TRAI, and when developing a new regulation, doing so with a rationale

Unfortunately in both the recent cases, TRAI has simply relied on public sentiment and not its work to back its position up.

There were a lot of arguments as to whether the cause of a call drop can be pinpointed. What is your take on this?

Drive test of wireless networks can show if call drops are due to dead zones or network overloading. I’m willing to bet that most call drops are caused by failed handover due to network overloading and much less dead zones as claimed. TRAI must use independent drive tests to measure QoS and collect independent verified data on network quality, as good and sound regulators do.

The judgment notes that there is no explanation as to why TRAI decided to limit compensation to three call drops a day and how it arrived at Rs.1 as the penalty. Your views?

TRAI has to recognise the need for it’s own data, to evolve a more rigorous and sounder basis for its conclusions. Yes, TRAI must wake up to reality; its views and opinions aren’t relevant without justification and evidence.

One reason for TRAIs non-rigorous approach is that it’s not accountable to anyone! I have proposed time and again that it should be accountable to the Parliament. It’s not just about drive tests. It’s about the rigor and frequency of the drive test, and the methodology and integrity.

The Supreme Court brings up the point of transparency in governance, in that TRAI did not consider views of the service providers.

There’s a bit of that in recent regulations by TRAI – this feeling of pre-determined conclusion! That’s not good! TRAI must hear all sides and evidence. TRAI is an independent regulator and must hear all sides, consider all evidence and then come to its regulations/order! That should never be compromised.

What can the Government do to ensure that TRAI lives up to its mandate of protecting consumers?

This is what I think – Government could step in and ensure consumers are protected. It can amend license agreements, it can amend TRAI Act to give more powers to TRAI and also make it clearly accountable to Parliament.

It can send reference back to TRAI to start another consultation on the issue of call drops. But mostly, it has to be done with Government reforming TRAI and working to build a world-class regulator! This is something I’ve said for many years.

If we are to boost investments in Information and Communication Technology and have satisfied consumers, the regulator needs to be of global standards with talent and tools for it.

Do you think the Telcos are doing enough to provide adequate service, especially to consumers from the lower strata of the society?

Unfortunately no! Telcos must enjoy confidence of their consumers, most importantly stakeholders. But, the opposite is true unfortunately.

Telcos/ISPs need to stop hiding behind alibis and excuses and give Indian consumers the quality service they deserve. TRAI must ensure Indian telecom is a shining example of private sector success.  They must build on that and not lose the goodwill due to poor treatment of consumers. I was privileged to have played a role in building this sector and would like to see it evolve into one where we can continue to be proud of.

Read Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s letter to TRAI on the differential pricing Regulations:

Letter_to_TRAI_Chairman_Detailed_Comments_on_TRAI_Order_Feb182016

Read his letter to Minister of Communications and IT, Ravi Shankar Prasad suggesting the need for the government to step in to ensure consumer interest:

Letter_to_Minister_of_Communications_and_IT_May262016