Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Wednesday, Aug 11, 2004
TRAI calls for telecom ombudsman
New Delhi , Aug. 10
THE Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on Tuesday recommended establishing an ombudsman for the telecom sector to address consumer complaints.
The regulator has suggested to the Government that the office of the ombudsman could be funded from the annual licence fee collected from the operators.
Announcing the recommendations, the TRAI said, "There is a need to establish an internal mechanism like in other sectors such as insurance and banking, to deal with the individual consumer grievances. One way of doing this is through establishment of an office of ombudsman for the telecom sector. The consumer can of course, go to the consumer court if he is not satisfied by the redressal given by the industry ombudsman."
The TRAI had earlier floated a consultation paper on the issue.
In the present set up, the individual consumer complaints are beyond the scope of the TRAI or the Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal and approaching the consumer courts is the only recourse available.
"Since the consumer courts are not dedicated to telecom related problems, following this recourse is a time consuming affair for the consumer. An intra-sector arrangement would be more responsive to consumer complaints in the telecom sector," the TRAI has noted in its recommendations to the Government.
The creation of the office of ombudsman, the regulator has noted, can be done either by an amendment in law, by an amendment in the licence or by concurrence of the operators.
The TRAI has, however, said that since the legal remedy of consumer courts have already been established by legislation, the second option, whereby, the Department of Telecom could amend the licence, could be the best way to set up an arbitrator.
On the issue of funding the ombudsman, the regulator said since the service providers are not very enthusiastic in providing all facilities and financial assistance in the proposal, the relevant amount may be provided from the licence fee collected annually from the telecom sector. The TRAI has suggested that less than 0.01 per cent of the annual licence fee will be sufficient to meet the expenses and it would not cause any undue burden on the service providers.
The TRAI said that if the Government accepts the proposal, the location and staffing pattern of the ombudsman can be finalised in consultation with the regulator.
While most of the consumer organisations welcomed the move, the service providers were not very convinced about the need for an ombudsman. Operators said that the competitive scenario in the telecommunication sector would impose requisite pressure on the service providers to provide top quality service and highly efficient customer care and the market mechanism itself would ensure that the service providers take due care of the customers.
The consumer organisations, on the other hand, pointed out that the number of complaints were on the increase. The statistical data available with the TRAI had also shown that the quantum of consumer complaints was on the rise.
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