Telecom operators heaved a sigh of relief on Wednesday with the Supreme Court striking down the watchdog’s orderto compensate subscribers for call drops, and said the real issues needed to be fixed now.
“We are very pleased with the Supreme Court verdict. It affirms what we have been saying all along,” Rajan S. Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI), told IANS, alluding to a host of factors being responsible for the menace of call drops.
“Now, let us move forward and fix the real issues – like having more cell towers, affordable spectrum and working with the local authorities to get the infrastructure in place,” Rajan said, just ahead of the next round of auction for airwaves.
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In a joint statement, the COAI and the Association of Unified Service Providers of India (AUSPI) said the operators will remain committed and completely aligned with the watchdog’s concern to ensure customers enjoy the best experience on their networks.
In its ruling, the apex court bench of Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman struck down the December 16, 2015 notification of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on call drops, as it set aside a Delhi High Court judgement that had upheld it earlier.
Unreasonable, arbitrary and non-transparent were the reasons assigned by the apex court.
Telecom operators had been maintaining that the watchdog’s order was not only populist but also sought to penalise them to accommodate the customers, although there were several reasons for the same – and many not in their hands entirely.
“The industry has made consistent and significant efforts to optimize networks and which have largely been completed, with more than 2 lakh sites being installed in last 15 months for 2G and 3G services across the country since January 1, 2015. The industry believes that these efforts will bring substantial conformity with Trai’s quality of service requirements,” the joint statement added.
The watchdog had been arguing that the penalty was the least invasive way to deal with the issue and told the apex court that the service providers must enhance their investments in infrastructure as they were earning huge revenues.
The watchdog had directed that the operators credit one rupee to a mobile users’ account for every call drop starting January 1, 2016 – restricting such penalty to three occurrences per subscriber per day.
The apex court, during the hearing, had wondered if the watchdog had studied its own technical paper carefully before the decision on call drop.
The technical paper clearly said the problem facing the sector included paucity of spectrum, interferences, shortage of towers, electromagnetic frequency, right-of-way and multiple agencies, including civic bodies, for getting clearances for putting up the towers.