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Telcos oppose TRAI plans to improve billing complaint system

Telecom operators are blocking a proposal by the telecom regulator to revamp the existing system to deal with rising consumer complaints related to billing. Operators, including Reliance Jio, Airtel and Vodafone Idea, have informed TRAI that the existing system was working fine and digital platforms providing tariff information had made the billing process very transparent.

“Changed structure of tariff has led to simplification of tariff, which is easily understood by subscribers. Subscribers are empowered to select their own tariffs, STVs, and data packs from available cluster as per their choice, based on their requirements. With adoption of digital means for buying and recharging of telecom products and services, the customer has become well versed with tariffs and billing related matters,” said Reliance Jio in its submission to TRAI.

“Overall increase in transparency has witnessed reduction in overall billing complaints landing on call centers. Existing process of categorising and establishing Root Cause Analysis of billing complaints are well defined, and it is felt that there is no further requirement for micro regulation on further defining the billing complaints,” it added.

The metering and billing regulations were last reviewed in 2012-13, and since then telecom networks have undergone significant changes, and many new services have been offered by the telecom service providers. At present, the periodic audits of each telecom operator are conducted to assess whether adequate measures have been taken and if due processes are being followed. This is done on a quarterly basis for each circle. In cases of wrong billing or errors in charging, operators have to refund the amount for customers who might have been charged wrongly. There are provisions to impose Financial Disincentives in case operators delay in submitting the audit reports and Action Taken Reports within the prescribed time limits. “It seems that the current guidelines are not comprehensive enough to deal with various kinds of scenarios related to billing complaints. Defining what constitutes billing complaint may also bring uniformity across the service providers. Examination of complaints at more frequent intervals, and doing it concurrently, could help in effective redressal of billing complaints. Apart from the audit of call data records in every quarter, if the auditor also checks the workflow of the complete billing complaint, then it might help in improving complaint handling process,” TRAI said in a consultation paper.

‘Guidelines are sufficient’
In response to the paper, Airtel said that TRAI’s existing guidelines are sufficient and adequately protect customers’ interest. “Any intrusive regulatory framework would be against the authority’s own stated and practised light-touch regulation policy and would be counterproductive. Any major changes in well-established regulations may also create unnecessary hindrances. Additional provisions relating to metering and billing processes, excessively or unreasonably, shall restrict the ability of TSPs to carry on its business,” said Airtel.

Vodafone Idea said that an increase in the frequency of audit of complaint handlingwill not help in improving the effectiveness of complaint-redressal mechanism. “On the contrary, the authority may reduce the vast categories in the billing complaints to make the audit process simpler and effective,” said Vodafone Idea. The Hindu BusinessLine

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