TRAI has sought setting up of a telecom Ombudsman to address consumer complains which varies from overcharging, billing issues, MNP, connection and disconnection of services, speed of broadband and mobile internet to poor quality of service among others, with the powers to impose financial penalty on the faulty telecom operator.
"There is need for an appropriate and empowered structure to be created for resolution of grievances of telecom consumers. An office of Ombudsman needs to be established", said the regulator in its recommendations to the Government.
TRAI says the the ombudsman can be established under rules framed by the Centre, similar to the institution of the insurance ombudsman under the Redress of Public Grievances Rules, 1998 (RPG Rules).
For this a three-stage consumer reddressal mechanism has been suggested: The firsts stage resolution will be by the by the telecom service provider (TSP) to the customer, which if remain unsuccessful can go to the Consumer Grievance Redressal Forum (CGRF). Failing for a solution at both the forums, the consumer can approach the the telecom ombudsman in the final stage.
Defining its powers, the ombudsman will have the power to award compensation to the consumer, award costs and issue directions to the TSP for the performance of specific obligations. The decision of the ombudsman will be final and binding on the parties. In order to function as an effective body, authority also recommends that the ombudsman should have the power to levy penalties on the TSPs, Trai said.
Regarding the funding of the Ombudsman , it will be part of the license fee, TRAI said that will be kept for it. "Portion of the existing, not in addition, licence fee, is recommended as the funding mechanism for the CGRF and Ombudsman. And, “in addition to this fixed fee, there will be a variable component payable by each telecom service provider (TSP) depending on the volume of complaints being filed against it and admitted before the ombudsman’s office,” it said.
About 10 million consumers complains are lodged with TSPs each quarter and are settled by mainly a call centre based systems by the TSP which also has a nodal officer and an appellate authority, consisting of a two-member advisory committee with one representative from a consumer organisation registered with Trai and a member from the TSP to advice the appellate authority.
For remote areas, TSPs will have to to maintain video calling facilities at their local offices, which can be used by the consumer to interact with the CGRF or ombudsman’s office, in case it is required. “The centralised web-based system will allow flow of information from each level of the grievance redressal mechanism to the ombudsman, thereby obviating the need for the same information to be provided again at various stages,” it added.