The Supreme Court may have upheld the letter of the law in letting the telecom companies go scot-free after it struck down Trai’s penal provisions for call drops. But a billion mobile phone users may be forgiven if they have been given a reason to believe they have a right to be miffed that an important opportunity to serve a required warning has gone waste.
If the spirit of the executive action by the regulator had been the sole consideration, then there may have been ample grounds to penalise the telecom behemoths for service deficiency, even if they have hundreds of reasons why they should not be the only ones to blame for irritating call drops, sometimes as high as one in five calls in certain saturated metro markets. The whole ecosystem of mobile telephony may have to modernise radically if India is to aspire to provide the best services in line with international standards.
For that to happen, there would have to be a sustained effort on the part of everyone, including service providers and building owners, to allow more towers and infrastructure. The yawning gap in telecommunication infra between what is ideal and the actual numbers on the ground cannot be covered without gigantic investment as well as public acceptance that such towers are safe health-wise.
Granted, the telcos are an easy and noticeable target because of the revenues they command.
On their part, the telcos can point to the gargantuan combined corporate debt burden — close to four lakh crore rupees — that they carry and the high price they pay for spectrum in these post-2G scandal days. But where they err is in taking the customer for granted and milking him for what he is worth with services going beyond basic telephone connectivity charges, which too are billed by the minute rather than in seconds. As pointed out in the course of arguments by counsel for Trai and the government, Indian telcos have not yet brought in the latest innovations and equipment in switches and telecom towers. Here again capital costs are a big hurdle.
Even so, at the end of the day it is the customer who suffers the most with call drops and unsatisfactory connections. Infinite are the “Hello, Hello, Hello” of India as people search for proper voice connections, or these days a fast Internet connection, on their mobiles. A billion customers would have been pleased had there even been a token penalty to hold the telcos accountable for service deficiencies. With the verdict going wholly in favour of the telcos, it is hard to imagine a real effort would now be made to offer quality services. Of course, Trai would have to drop its “manifestly arbitrary restriction on the fundamental rights of telcos” to bring about accountability and better services it seeks.A boost for