Published: The Economic Times, September 5, 2005

By Manish Agarwal

The Indian telecom sector is booming, with the number of subscribers having crossed the 100-million mark, with mobile services leading the growth. Tariffs have tumbled, said to be the lowest in the world. Despite low tariffs, 30% of mobile subscribers are willing to shift to an operator offering better service, according to a recent study conducted by the International Data Corporation.

This is not surprising, as with growth, quality of service has taken a beating too. Trai’s data shows a significant increase in consumer complaints. Network congestion, call drops, etc., are common complaints. Interconnectivity between GSM providers and non-GSM or DoT systems appears to be intentionally sabotaged, and it takes many attempts to connect. Billing is another big problem. Trai’s Quality of Service (QoS) survey reports that the billing parameters of all operators are below established norms.

Lowest tariff in the world is nothing to cheer about, because you and I know that monthly charges have actually increased. Providers have found ways of fattening their coffers by charging for unwanted services.

Examples abound: SMS undelivered or sent to invalid numbers gets charged! Several times due to congestion or a shortcoming in the network, the call drops, even when it is connected. Adding insult to injury, we are charged for these short duration calls for no fault on our part!

Similar practices lead to huge bills, in contrast to what is expected on the basis of simply, low tariff rates. Early this year, through a common charter of telecom services, operators agreed to achieve the minimum prescribed QoS benchmarks. Faced with high standards, they are now lobbying for lowering them. This clearly highlights the gap between intent and practice. Trai should be enabled to impose penalty for non-compliance.

Number portability is also desirable as it would put pressure on service providers to offer quality service or run the risk of losing customers.