Rival telecom operators, including Airtel, Reliance Jio and government-owned BSNL, have joined hands to block the telecom regulator’s move to audit the billing systems of telcos as part of its efforts to improve quality of services to consumers. All the telcos have written to TRAI stating that the proposed audit would increase regulatory costs and is unviable.

“The existing measures prescribed by the authority under various regulations/directions for information dissemination and practices adopted by service providers are more than adequate to ensure transparency, enable customers to make informed decisions about telecom services, and protect consumer interests. No further micro regulation is required ,” Bharti Airtel said in a communication to the TRAI.

“Anything further in terms of of more intrusive regulatory framework would be counterproductive and contrary to the TRAI’s own policy of light-touch regulation,” it added.

Metering, billing systems

TRAI had suggested all telcos get their metering and billing systems for every circle audited once every financial year. The regulator wanted service providers to deploy more advanced, robust, and scalable IT products for accurate billing of various services, especially since telco networks have undergone major changes over the years and new IP-based networks such as 4G-LTE/5G technologies, which has shifted the billing process from a per second/minute-based model to data volume. TRAI also asked for an action taken report every quarter.

Also read: TRAI/DoT to bring in QoS norms for 5G services soon

Reliance Jio said that for operators having centralised billing systems and uniform tariffs across LSAs (licensed area- equivalent to a circle), there is no need to conduct audit for each LSA, as the tariff configuration will remain unchanged for all LSAs and no purpose will be served by auditing the same for all 22 LSAs. Therefore, we request the authority that for those tariffs which are common for all the circles, audit be done on a sample LSA of the choice of auditor and observation related to the same may be made applicable for LSAs. Thus, we submit that in case of uniform tariffs, audit for one LSAs tariffs, done at central level should suffice,” Jio said.

State-owned BSNL said, “Submitting action taken reports every quarter will require more time, staff and infrastructure. The process will become more complicated. It will be difficult to handle especially because of the enhanced size work. Hence, it is suggested that submission of audit report and Action Taken Reports to TRAI should be done yearly as per current procedure.”

Consumer groups back TRAI

Consumer groups have come out backing the regulator. “We are in favour that all service providers should get their metering and billing system and respective LSAs audited for access services by an auditor once in every financial year which should be empanelled by TRAI to conduct such audit in a prescribed format.  The current system is somehow not working at its best and on various occasions, the outages at any particular district or area go unnoticed because the downtime is averaged out in the whole LSA data. It is important to audit State and district-wise QoS data. This will result in more granular data reporting as against the current practice of reporting at the LSA level and average on a quality basis,” said Gujarat-based Consumer Protection Association.