1. Fe Exclusive : DoT mulls variant of ‘name & shame’

Fe Exclusive : DoT mulls variant of ‘name & shame’

Telcos to issue capacity-subscriber figures

By: | New Delhi | Updated: August 27, 2015 10:06 AM
Call drop

Sources said DoT is going to write to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to ask operators to disclose to consumers, government and the regulator how many subscribers their infrastructure and allied capacity can serve, circle-wise. (Reuters)

With call drops developing into a national problem — so much so even PM Narendra Modi has expressed concern — the department of telecommunications is looking at fixing it in a novel manner. The latest brainwave is to make it mandatory for operators to make disclosures that officials believe would help consumers choose operators where the incidence of calls drops is likely to be less as well as build competitive pressure on telcos to improve services. The thinking is that if operators share such statistics with customers, which amounts to stating that “my capacity is full and I have no room for any more consumers”, it would force telcos to optimise resources and check the problem.

Sources said DoT is going to write to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to ask operators to disclose to consumers, government and the regulator how many subscribers their infrastructure and allied capacity can serve, circle-wise.

Simply put, an operator would have to say that in a circle like Delhi it has the capacity to serve only around 5 million subscribers but has double the number. Or another operator could discloses it has a capacity for 5 million users but has only 3 million on its network.

The assumption is that if consumers are made aware of such details they would naturally opt for service providers that are not bursting at their seams. Similarly, the assumption is also that in a hyper-competitive market like telecom, operators having subscribers twice their capacity cannot simply put a sign stating “no room”, and would naturally do their best to assure subscribers that they would ensure no call drops.

“The proposal is at a nascent stage. We need to write to Trai. They need to devise a methodology by which it can be measured what is the kind of infrastructure in terms of spectrum, towers, etc, an operator needs to serve a certain number of subscribers,” an official told FE.

Trai is already working on a consultation paper on call drops and measures to disincetivise it , and is likely to incorporate this aspect also in it, the official added.

Operators and industry analysts FE spoke to regarding the proposed move said it would be difficult for DoT to keep verifying the authenticity of the claims of the operators. However, some said that the move would be welcome as it gives the operators the chance to communicate to the subscribers that it is not they but the government which is at fault.

The phenomenon of call drops has assumed proportions where operators and the government have collided head on, blaming each other for it.

While the industry says lack of spectrum and inadequate telecom towers (sites) are the reason for call drops, the government says operators need to optimise their resources.

On Tuesday Modi too voiced his serious concern over call drops and directed officials to resolve the issue on an urgent basis as it directly affected the common man, and also asked them to ensure the problems in voice connectivity do not extend to data connectivity in the future. This was followed by telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad stating that telecom companies have to find a solution as the call drop problem has become serious in past three to four months. He said telcos are not doing enough to reduce call drops. He also reiterated that telecom companies must optimise their networks, even as he promised full support on the policy front, including on installation of towers.

On Wednesday, Gopal Vittal, CEO and MD, Bharti Airtel (India & South Asia), thanked the minister for extending support on the policy front. “We are grateful to the minster of communications and IT for his encouraging comments on the contributions made by the telecom industry to enhance mobile connectivity across the country, and also for his concerns on the various issues facing the industry. We would like to thank him for his comments regarding the impact of mobile towers and radio waves as this will go a long way in clarifying various myths and misconceptions surrounding the issue,” Vittal said in a statement.

Towering problem:

* Call drops are rising because number of towers are dwindling
* There are only 34,000 towers in Delhi whereas at least 50,000 is required
* On All-India basis 625,000 towers are required but we have only 550,000
* Reason for less towers is that there’s a perception that it is a health hazard
* Wherever towers are located, owners are not renewing leases
* Civic agencies have cumbersome process to grant approvals
* Average per operator spectrum holding too low at 12-15 MHz against 40-45 MHz in developed nations

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    ChamatkariChor (Baba)
    Sep 1, 2015 at 8:44 am
    Only one of two things, too many towers or too less spectrum can be valid at a time. Not both. If you have more spectrum, the issue of too many urban towers is not a relevant issue for the most part. If you have plenty of towers, spectrum reuse is high and more spectrum becomes unnecessary. In the US, telecom operators d spectrum and sell to others depending on the premium received. This isn't good use of a finite resource. Interesting that no one seems to be talking about this little bit.
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      Devi
      Aug 27, 2015 at 9:50 am
      Some questions that may be relevant here are: Whether the DOT linked spectrum auction terms to the technical capacity and the subscriber base? If yes why the conditions are not enforced ? What is preventing the CBDT from making a law to treat all the income from excess subscriber base as unearned/unjust income of the Operators and tax accordingly? What prevents Ministry of Consumer Affairs from insuting a cl auction suit against the operators who have taken excess subscribers that technically permissible/feasible? What is preventing TRAI and DOT from disclosing circle wise & operator wise technical capacity as per auction terms and the actual subscriber base? Did the DOT project the demand for cell phone connections (voice and data) and accordingly requested for release of spectrum from the Defense Ministry? Or What has prevented DOT from taking action until the call drop complaints have reached to unacceptable proportions? PM's interventions comes at a right time. In a way he is preparing the DOT, MTNL, BSNL, TRAI, MOF to face tough questions from CAG and also helping to improve consumer satisfaction. But, who knows the telephone companies may engage good lawyers and accountants with insider knowledge of DOT /TRAI systems to defend against disclosure for naming and shaming. Thanks.
      Reply
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        Devi
        Aug 27, 2015 at 7:00 am
        Why can't TRAI disclose such information from its own database first? Why can't DOT disclosure the circle wise capacity as auctioned and as used by Operators right now? Why can't CBDT treat income from the excess consumer base as unearned income and tax it accordingly? Why can't the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, on behalf of consumers, go for a cl auction suit against the Operators for not delivering the services as per standards? Perhaps, the Operators my challenge all such actions by the government with the help of lawyers and chartered accountants who have insider knowledge of telecom governance! In any case, the call drop issue is a potential theme for the CAG to look into Spectrum auction terms. Thus PM intervention is timely.
        Reply

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