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Delhi High Court upholds TRAI order on Dropped Calls

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In October 2015, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issued an order to all Mobile Service Providers to compensate consumers in the event of dropped calls. This was challenged by the Mobile Service Providers in the Delhi High Court with the contention that such an order was not within the powers of TRAI and that the order was arbitrary. The Delhi High Court dismissed the plea and upheld the TRAI order.

In October 2015, The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issued an order to all Mobile Service Providers to compensate consumers in the event of dropped calls. These directions were to be applicable from 1st January, 2016. Among other things, TRAI directed the service providers to

  • Credit the account of the calling consumer by one rupee: Such credit in the account of the calling consumer will be limited to three dropped calls in a day (00:00:00 hours to 23:59:59 hours)
  • Send a message through SMS/USSD message to the calling consumer within four hours of the occurrence of call drop, the details of amount credited in his account
  • In case of post-paid consumers, provide the details of the credit in the next bill.

Following this order, various mobile service providers approached the Delhi High Court challenging the validity of these directions. The Delhi High Court dismissed the plea of service providers and upheld TRAI’s order. This paves the way for the implementation of the compensation provisions in the event of dropped calls.

The order is well within TRAI’s power

One of the points raised by the service providers was that TRAI had no power to make such a regulation. The court said, ‘There can be no dispute that the impugned regulations have been made to ensure quality of services extended to the consumers by the service providers’. Maintaining that ensuring the quality of service provided by the service providers is one of the important functions of TRAI, the Court concluded that this order was well within its powers.

The court also said that the compensation provided under the regulations does not amount to penalty and is only notional compensation to consumers who have suffered as a result of call drop.

Regulations do not demand 100% Performance

The court mentioned that the technical paper published by TRAI had ascertained from the equipment manufacturers that network counters/indicators are capable to pin point the exact cause for the call drop.  TRAI’s technical paper also mentions that due to technological advancement, the issue of call drop can now be addressed by the service providers by adopting various other means.

The service providers also contended that they are facing problems in installation of mobile towers resulting in frequent call drops. But this point was disputed by the Additional Solicitor General (ASG). The ASG quoted the drive tests conducted by TRAI in 2014 and 2015 and that the problem of call drops has been identified in various places for reasons unrelated to mobile towers. The court refused to enter into this controversy.

The service providers also contended that the new regulations demand 100% performance and that the compensation for dropped calls is contradictory with tolerance of 2% imposed by the Quality of Service Regulations.The court  maintained that the Quality of Service Regulations are prescribed as a quality parameter for the entire network area and the same is distinct and different from the compensation provided to the consumers for the dropped calls specifying an individual standard. Emphasizing that the compensation is limited to only 3 dropped calls per day, the court said this cannot be termed as demanding 100% performance.  Hence the court did not appreciate the contention of the service providers that Quality of Service Regulations and Consumer Regulations are mutually contradictory.

The court concluded by saying that these regulations are not arbitrary and that TRAI can take appropriate steps for compliance of these regulations. It remains to be seen if the service providers challenge this order in the Supreme Court.

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