What a change!

DQW Bureau
24 May 2002

World Telecom Day on May 17 was a revelation for citizens in Tamil Nadu. The dominant telecom service company, BSNL, has made an announcement uncharacteristic of a government organization. BSNL has offered gifts to people to register for a new telephone connection.

The unthinkable has happened. Besides waiving off the registration fee of Rs 2,000, existing subscribers who apply for a second telephone connection would be offered a gift worth Rs 200. This is certainly better than the offer in Indore few years back when BSNL officers offered to go to subscribers' homes and help them fill up their applications for a telephone connection. That was when Bharti started the nation's first private basic telecom service from

But why can't gifts be given to new subscribers too? There is a history behind this. Even nearly 55 years after becoming a free country, we, as a nation are loath to give up archaic rules and regulations that strangle a citizen's freedom of choice and stifle commercial activities. As telecom service was primarily a government controlled activity till a few years ago, archaic rules govern the provision of a telephone connection. Proof of address is a must to get a telephone connection so that a subscriber who does not clear his telephone bill can be caught before he runs away. Hence BSNL prefers to deal with the existing subscriber rather than expand the market by offering incentives to new subscribers.

The same principle with the added national security angle has been applied to subscribers of pre-paid cellular connections nationally. Witness the mad rush to gather the residence proof of such subscribers before May 31. This will surely depress the cellular market where pre-paid connections contribute nearly two-thirds of the subscriber base. In a country where even foreign terrorists have managed to procure Indian Passports, for the right 'considerations' is it going to be very difficult for anti-national elements to do so for a cellular pre-paid card?

Recent data presented in Parliament indicates that even the insistence on proof of address is no guarantee against collecting dues from telephone subscribers. A long list of companies and individuals, including prominent politicians, who owe hundreds of crores of rupees in telephone bills was presented to Parliament. What has prevented BSNL and other government telecom companies from collecting the telephone bills? Even some government organizations and departments figure in the defaulters' list.

Instead of resorting to outdates processes, BSNL should campaign to ensure that the country has a robust legal system to enable commercial transactions. This would ensure that a potential subscribed need not be looked at with suspicion as a 'potential defaulters' from Day One. Instead BSNL should use its widespread reach to rope in more customers. And give priority to customer service and fault rectification. As the network expands, the human tendency to talk too will take care that the market will always grow.

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