The telecom sector is one of the fastest-growing sectors in India. The growth has contributed immensely to the improvement in the quality of life of the common man, and also in facilitating the promotion of trade and commerce. What is not visible is the tremendous expansion of this sector has also increased the number of complaints from consumers. There are some frequent-occurring problems faced by consumers:
- Activation of VAS (value-added services) without the consent of the subscriber;
- Inflated bills/overcharging/unfair deductions;
- Disconnection without notice/intimation;
- Call drops/network problems;
- Non-refund of security deposits; and
- Delay in activation of desired facilities/services.
The present arrangement of customer-grievances-redressal mechanism is unable to address the aspirations of common citizens. A ruling of the Supreme Court in 2009 was interpreted that section 7B of Indian Telegraph Act 1885 barred a consumer from seeking remedy under the Consumer Act. The complaints thus remained limited between the subscriber and the telecom company. With 5G coming in the near future, a lot of challenges can be envisaged as 5G networks support a massive number of connected devices, enable a huge increase of bandwidth over LTE, and create a threat landscape different from previous networks. Security challenges stem from the very attributes that make 5G such an improvement.
It may be noted that online frauds, including mobile banking, online banking, phone banking and even frauds using ATMs, are on the rise. Though ATMs are considered the most convenient option for withdrawing cash, using an ATM, debit or credit card, ATMs are also being used by fraudsters to withdraw money from somebody else’s account without their knowledge. The Reserve Bank of India has introduced an Ombudsman Scheme for Digital Transactions, 2019 (the Scheme). It is an expeditious and cost-free apex level mechanism for resolution of complaints regarding digital transactions undertaken by customers of the system participants as defined in the Scheme.
TRAI is proactively and constantly working toward redressal of consumer complaints and growth of telecom Industry. TRAI issues from time to time regulations, directions, orders, or guidelines to achieve their objectives. TRAI has notified a grievance-redressal mechanism for all the service providers under Telecom Consumer Protection and Redressal of Grievances Act, 2007. The regulation mandates establishment of a grievance mechanism for resolution of consumers’ complaints within the TSP as level of call center and appellate authority. But the question arises whether in the changing telecommunication trends, it is enough to have left everything at the end of TSPs? Or has the time come for the government to take a step forward, considering the huge challenges that lie ahead, as the RBI has done recently?
Though the rules and responsibilities vary greatly through time and place, the government must create them. 5G being a more pervasive technology will have greater interaction with devices, individuals, and businesses, making the threat around security and data leakage even more serious. There is no better time to come up with the telecom ombudsman and take a giant leap forward in the sector. For now, we will have to wait till future unfolds itself.
The opinions expressed in the article are the writer’s own and do not reflect any organization or department view.