The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on Friday made a strong pitch for establishment of an ombudsman in the sector and suggested a three-tier mechanism for effective resolution of consumer complaints.
The Trai recommendations come amid a large number of complaints arising on account of wrong billing, poor quality of service and unsatisfactory resolution of consumer grievances by the telecom operators.
"There is a need for an independent and appropriately empowered structure to be created for resolution of grievances of telecom consumers. An office of telecom ombudsman needs to be established," Trai said.
To function effectively, the proposed ombudsman should have the power to levy penalties on the telecom service providers, Trai said in its recommendations to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
"It will have the power to award compensation to the consumer, award costs and issue directions to the telecom service providers for the performance of specific obligations," Trai said.
In its latest set of recommendations pertaining to complaints and grievance redress in the telecom sector, Trai said that office of the telecom ombudsman can be established under rules framed by the Central government (similar to insurance ombudsman) or alternatively, through a legislation passed by Parliament.
Trai also suggested utilising a portion of existing licence fee as funding mechanism for the new structure that includes the ombudsman. "In addition to this fixed fee there will be a variable component payable by each telecom service provider depending on the volume of complaints being filed against it and admitted before the ombudsman's office," it said.
The three-stage structure proposed by Trai entails resolution by the telecom operator, by a fact-finding body Consumer Grievance Redressal Forum (CGRF) and thereafter, if required, determination by telecom ombudsman.
CGRF are proposed at service areas or state level by leveraging existing field formations of the Telecom Department and will be responsible for settling the facts, mediation and offer a solution.
Trai said the consumer should first approach telecom operator to seek a solution. The telecom operator will be duty-bound to look into the request and address the concerns within a timeline stipulated by the authority.
If the operator fails to resolve the issue to the satisfaction of the consumer, remains unresponsive, or is unable to resolve the complaint within the prescribed timelines, the consumer will have the option of moving onto the independent mechanism suggested by Trai.
"This will consist of a process of a resolution based on fact finding by the Consumer Grievance Redressal Forum or CGRF, followed by, if necessitated, determination by the telecom ombudsman," the regulator said.
Only those complaints that have clearly identifiable and measurable rights will qualify, said the regulator. A centralised web based system will be placed for the flow of information from each level of the grievance redress mechanism to the ombudsman, it added.
"The authority is making these recommendations to the government out of its firm conviction that establishing an independent mechanism for grievance redressal would be small but gainful effort for all stakeholders of telecom sector, especially at a time when the industry is playing a defining role in shaping the development of the country," the regulator said.