Stymied trying to change your mobile phone operator even while retaining the number? You are not alone. Requests from nearly 14 million mobile users to move to another operator, based on number portability rules, have been rejected till date.

This is despite the telecom regulator telling companies not to reject porting requests without valid reasons.

Under the regulations, a mobile operator can decline a porting request only if the user is in a binding contract or if the subscriber has taken the connection bundled with a handset.

Yet, an investigation by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India finds that telcos were rejecting porting requests twisting these two conditions to suit their purpose. Bharti Airtel has rejected 3.7 million requests, Vodafone 2.7 million and Idea Cellular has refused 2.1 million requests so far.

Mobile number portability allows subscribers to retain their numbers even while switching the operator. The facility, allowed across the country from January 20, 2011, was expected to improve the quality of services through heightened competition.

However, two years after the launch of this facility, consumers still face problems shifting their operator.

Acting on several consumer complaints, TRAI proposed a penalty of Rs 10,000 on telecom operators for every unlawful rejection of a subscriber request. However, till date, no penalty has been imposed on any service provider

Telecom companies defend their position on the ground that, initially, there were too many grey areas. Said Rajan Mathews, Director-General, Cellular Operators Association of India: “Of the total porting requests of 85 million, only 14 million have been rejected, so it is not that portability is being blocked. There were too many complexities in rolling out this facility across India. There was also no clarity on things such as whether operators can allow porting to life-time pre-paid card users.” Senior TRAI officials told Business Line that the regulator has been cracking down on operators violating porting rules.

“We have started legal action against operators who are not following the regulation and more action will be taken if we find violations,” the TRAI official said.

According to data released by the Telecom Ministry, Bharti Airtel received the maximum number of requests for porting into its network.

The largest mobile operator got port-in requests from 23.8 million users compared to 18.4 million port-out requests.

Vodafone has got requests from 23.7 million subscribers wanting to move into its network and 16.8 million from those wanting to leave its network.

The portability facility has hit players such as Reliance Communications and Tata Teleservices as they have more subscribers leaving their network than those looking to port in.

(This article was published on March 8, 2013)
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