Sometime in June this year, the telecom department issued a notice to mobile operators to come up with an action plan by July 31 to deal with call drops. In October, TRAI came up with a proposal to compensate users for disruption in services: mobile users would get ₹1 for every dropped call from January 1. This has been challenged by the telecom companies in court claiming that the TRAI move was illegal. The telecom minister has been aggressively pushing telecom companies to scale up their network while telecom operators blame various agencies and the government. They say municipalities and State agencies are blocking the erection of new towers, resulting in network congestion.

While TRAI has put the onus on users to prove that they experience a dropped call to claim compensation, the Centre has pinned the responsibility on telecom operators who in turn blame the lack of proper policy for rolling out towers. The current base of 4 lakh towers and about 17 lakh km of optical fibre lines is clearly inadequate. There is need for at least one lakh more towers and 40 lakh km of cable to ensure good quality service.

To address the problem, three things have to happen. First, the Centre should set up a single window clearance for tower roll out. The presence of numerous agencies makes the task arduous and full of delays. Second, TRAI must penalise operators for violating quality of service norms. Third, operators must start investing in networks to deploy the best technologies available to optimise quality. The days of offering basic telephony services are over. As consumers demand high speed broadband services like telemedicine and streaming movies, the policymakers, the regulator and the operator have no option but to up their game.

Thomas K Thomas Corporate Editor

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