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Kapil Sibal's Meeting With Telecom Consumer User Groups

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Consumers can seldom voice their frustration on telecom issues and hope to get a sympathetic hearing. Tuesday was such an exception.

And so, when the Minister for Communications and IT, Mr Kapil Sibal, called consumer user groups to discuss issues related to telecom services, complaints poured in. They ranged from lack of transparency in tariff plans and loading of unnecessary charges without consumers consent to pesky calls and delayed refunds on security deposits.

“Operators sit on huge sums of money, which they collect as security deposit. If and when it is returned, why is it not being paid back with interest?” said Mr Ajoy Eric Lal, advisor to Consumer VOICE.

Mr Lal also demanded that India should move away from the current definition of broadband (speed of 256 kbps). “The current definition gives consumers zero experience…We need to define the broadband quality with clear figures, specific parameters, and upload speeds,” he said.

Telecom Users Group of India (TUGI) said there should be a single tariff plan for all pre-paid mobile consumers. “SMS should not be charged more than voice calls, that is, one paise per second. Also, all value-added services should be brought under the ambit of regulation. These should not be left up to operators, under forbearance,” said Mr Anil Prakash, President of TUGI.

Other issues flagged by consumer forums included strengthening of the sectoral regulator through amendment of the TRAI Act, need for institutionalised mechanism for consultation every six months, and streamlining the complaint redressal system to make it more consumer-friendly.

“How can rural consumers be expected to go online, to complain? There has to be a voice mechanism, and they should be allowed to interact in their local language,” said a representative of a consumer group.

And then there were some basic problems: persistent call drops, especially in rural areas, lack of transparency in terms and conditions for pre-paid services, and unambiguous information on newly launched services among others.

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