A day after telecom secretary RK Garg called up the heads of telcos asking them to personally intervene to check the rising incidence of call drops, the CEOs of the country’s top six firms have written to him and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India chairman RS Sharma, saying all their efforts go in vain with corporations arbitrarily sealing towers. They pointed out that despite the government’s commitment to help, in the last two days the Municipal Corporation of Delhi sealed 16 sites in the capital. Sites have also been shut in Mumbai in an arbitrary manner.
The joint letter by the CEOs of Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, Idea Cellular, Reliance Communications, Sistema Shyam and Tata Teleservices, a copy of which was marked to telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also, pointed out that in the last month 70 sites have been sealed and in the last year, about 1,700 sites were shut across the country.
While thanking the government for its efforts to address the call drop issue, the CEOs have said that such arbitrary sealing, even when the matter in some cases are sub judice, makes their entire effort and investment futile. “…this continuing unilateral activity of the Delhi Municipalities of sealing our cell sites will cause increase in call drops and inconvenience to consumers,” the letter said.
“It must be noted that with every 40 sites being sealed, there’s an average 20% increase in call drops,” the letter stated. “We also initiated discussion with local MCD authorities to find a resolution to tower sealing. However, while the discussions are underway and there is litigation in progress, the MCD continues to seal sites on a continuous basis,” the letter added.
The issue of call drops has almost brought the industry and the government in direct collision course in the last few months with the latter accusing the former of not doing enough to optimise its networks and investments. The industry rebuts the charge, saying that the main reason for call drops is the lack of towers which is due to misplaced fear that it causes cancer and also because the municipal authorities have been sealing towers arbitrarily. The government has promised them that it will allow them to erect towers on government buildings.
The matter became sensitive with even the Prime Minister and other senior Cabinet ministers expressing concern over call drops and asking the department of telecommunications to take steps to check it.
In the interim Trai has also brought out a consultation paper to examine whether the operators need to monetarily compensate consumers for call drops.