Improve service or face action, Prasad tells telecom firms

Telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad warned operators on Thursday that if they do not address concerns raised by consumers on dropped calls and quality of service, the matter would be referred to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) for action.

"As a minister, I am equally accountable to consumers. If the consumers of India are complaining, there are lots of call drops in the case of private telecom operators, they must take this as caveat consideration." If consumers continue to raise concerns, the matter would be brought to Trai's notice.

Prasad said that he is answerable for the quality of service (QoS) delivered by state-run telecom firms, but at the same time he accused the previous United Progressive Alliance government of hurting financial condition of BSNL and MTNL. "This issue has always baffled me. BSNL was in Rs10,000-crore profit in 2004 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee left office," he added.

Prasad seemed myopic to the fact that mobile telephony has burgeoned manifold since then, filling the huge gaps left by the notoriously inefficient Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd.

On apprehensions that call rates would increase due to the revenue outgo of telecom firms in the spectrum auction, Prasad reiterated his earlier position that there will be negligible impact of 1.3 paise per minute on call rates.

"A very good expert whom I respect shared with me that Indian consumers make mobile calls worth 350 minutes. The spectrum price paid by companies is for 20 years. If you divide that by 20 years, the yearly impact come to about Rs5,300 crore on industry whose annual revenue is Rs2 lakh crore plus."

Prasad said that further dividing Rs5,300 crore by average minutes of call made by the consumer, the impact comes to around 1.3 paise.

This figure has been hotly refuted by operators and their representative body COAI, who say the minister has failed to take inflation into account, and call rates would rise by about 15 per cent after the pricey auction.

Spectrum costs in India are today among the highest, if not the highest in the world.