Stating that it is within its statutory power to regulate the issue of call drops, telecom regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on Wednesday told the Delhi High Court that imposing a financial liability on telcos to compensate the consumers for poor quality of services is a matter of policy decision and the courts should “not transgress into the field of policy decision”.
“Call drops is a pervasive problem in the country and seems to have aggravated with the passage of time leading to increased consumers dissatisfaction. Existing measures have not served to reduce the incidence of such call drops. Hence, the necessity and importance of the impugned regulation – which is not only reasonable but has a clear and rational linkage with the object sought to be achieved i.e. reducing call drops,” it said in its reply to the petitions filed by the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India (AUSPI) and 21 telecom operators.
The service providers had challenging Trai’s October 16, 2015, rule mandating them to pay consumers one rupee per call drop experienced on their networks, subject to a cap of Rs 3 a day.
A bench headed by Chief Justice G Rohini will hear the matter on Thursday.
Stating that the Telecom Consumers Protection (9th Amendment) Regulations, 2015 is in nature of sub-ordinate legislation and the legislature and its delegate are the “sole repositories of the power to decide what policy should be pursued in relation to matters covered by the Act and there is no scope for interference by the court unless the particular provision impugned before it can be said to suffer from any legal infirmity.
It further said there was no justification for the service providers to move the court at this stage as it will keep a close watch on the implementation of the regulations and “may review after 6 months, if necessary.”
The issue of frequent call drops has become a major cause of concern also for the consumers, policymakers as well as parliamentarians, thus it is the statutory responsibility of the authority to protect the interests of the consumers of the telecom sector, according to the Preamble to the Trai Act 1997, the affidavit stated.
Besides, the telecom majors, including Vodafone, Bharti Airtel and Reliance, “have failed to keep the investments commensurate with the pace of increase in usage and the growth in number of subscribers being added by them,” it said, adding that “the investment made in the infrastructure (other than radio spectrum) in wireless access service segment rose by only 4.6% from Rs 2,02,399 crore in the financial year 2012-2013 to Rs 2,11,691 crore in 2013-2014.
During this period, the minutes of usage (MOU) grew by 6.8% and the data usage grew by more than 100%.
“Clearly, the investment has not kept pace with the usage. It appears that the lack of investment in network infrastructure by the petitioners is one of the main reasons for the problem of call drops, the affidavit stated.
Trai has refuted the claim of the telecom majors that they would incur huge losses if the compensation rule was implemented, saying “the total financial implication on service providers was likely to be not more than Rs 800 crore per annum” which would be 0.75% of their adjusted gross revenue of Rs 1,38,566 crore for the year 2014-15.