TRAI makes recommendation on mobile community phone service

Cyber News Service
New Delhi, 4 Nov

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has given its recommendations to the Government on provisions of mobile community phone services. The immediate context in which the need for these recommendations arose was a reference from the DoT on the subject. DoT had earlier prohibited the cellular mobile service operators from providing such public call
facility, except in situations of inherent mobility, eg trains, buses, running taxis etc. 

The Authority has based its recommendations in the context of the NTP’99, and a wider public interest. The corner stone of NTP’99 is to enhance the availability of affordable and effective communications for all citizens. TRAI is of the view that if an alternative service is available at lower rates, it should be made available subject to specified conditions and without discrimination. This will promote competition and thus help the customer. 

The recommendations also reflects TRAI’s view that there is a need for service providers to evolve competitive strategies to enhance their revenue and service base rather than to expect guaranteed returns by keeping certain alternate services out of the reach of the public, an approach not consistent with the norms of a liberal, open and competitive economy. 

TRAI has recommended that the Government should allow cellular mobile service providers to offer the public in their license area the service of making calls from mobile hand sets handled through their agents or employees. This will help increase competition and will enhance the options available to the customer in terms of lower prices and wider choice of services.

It has also recommended that the users of this service should not be charged a tariff which is more than the airtime charge, plus the appropriate fixed network charge if the call has traveled over some portion of the fixed network. Service providers would be free to offer a lower tariff for the service. This ensures that the tariff of the service would not be more than that for mobile calls. To the extent that cheaper calls, particularly for intra-circle long distance, are provided by this service, the customer will benefit.

TRAI has also recommended that providers of this service should be required to display prominently the tariffs of the service. Service providers have to ensure a mechanism by which customers are billed
Correctly and a suitable arrangement will have to be prescribed for this purpose if it has not been devised already. The focus here is to provide a system through which the customer is properly informed about the charge applicable and to ensure that verification of charging complaints could be made at a later date.

Other recommendations include: the service should be provided without discrimination to all those who seek it; the general location and the identity of the agent or employee through whom the service will be provided should be made widely known in the community; and the principal service provider i.e. the original licensee has to check from time to time and to ensure that the tariff being charged by his agent is the same as the advertised tariff. 

In actual practice, whether consumers would opt for one alternative or the other would depend upon the competitive tariffs and the quality of service, and it would appear that the interest of the consumers would be best served by introduction of competition in this area rather than by limiting competition. It is also clear that there are certain sections of the people who would find this service to be of particular advantage, for example, old people or people who are sick or women who do not like to go outdoors to the fixed service PCOs. There is no reason why an alternative which technology has made available should be denied by means of administrative orders.

The recommendations will increase the scope of services available to the general public, will reduce applicable tariffs in several cases, and will enhance the participation of a section of society that may have found it difficult to avail of telecom services in general.

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