The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on Friday pitched for the creation of a telecom ombudsman to handle consumer complaints, which on an average stand at around 10 million per quarter, with the power of imposing penalty on the erring service provider. The regulator recommended a three-stage consumer grievance redressal mechanism starting with resolution by the telecom service provider (TSP) followed by the Consumer Grievance Redressal Forum (CGRF) and the telecom ombudsman in the final stage.
At present, consumer grievances are taken up through a mechanism consisting of a call centre and a nodal officer and an appellate authority, which consists of a two-member advisory committee with one representative from a consumer organisation registered with Trai and a member from the TSP to advice the appellate authority.
The authority said that the ombudsman should be created on the lines of a similar body in the insurance sector. The insurance ombudsman was created by the government for individual policyholders for an out-of-the-court settlement in a cost-effective, efficient and impartial way under the Redress of Public Grievances Rules, 1998.
The ombudsman will have its offices at the national level and at sub-national levels covering all the states.
“It (ombudsman) will have the power to award compensation to the consumer, award costs and issue directions to the TSP for the performance of specific obligations. The decision of the ombudsman will be final and binding on the parties. In order to function as an effective body, authority also recommends that the ombudsman should have the power to levy penalties on the TSPs,” Trai said defining its powers.
On the ways to create funding for establishing and running the ombudsman, the regulator suggested that no additional burden should be put on the TSPs, but a portion of the existing license fee can be used as the funding mechanism.
Trai, however, suggested that a telecom operator will have to cough up a variable component depending on the volume of complaints that are being filed against it and admitted before the ombudsman. The ombudsman will handle complaints relating to billing, mobile number portability, connection services, value-added services, broadband speed among others, the regulator has recommended.
It, however, will not handle complaints on disputes relating to third-party payment made using sources provided by TSPs (credit card payments, airline booking and bank transfers), email frauds, tower frauds, phishing, etc. On the need of an independent body for grievance redressal, Trai said that as per the current trends, on an average around 10 million complaints are lodged with the TSPs each quarter and that there is a general sense of “dissatisfaction among consumers about the TSP’s established mechanisms and in particular about the quality of redressal offered by them”.