TRAI's new directive to Indian telcos on setting up three-tier consumer grievance redressal system

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has issued rules mandating all telecommunications companies - landline voice, cellular and broadband - set up a three- tier system to address consumer grievances.
The regulator pointedly specified that the rules apply to the two large government-owned phone companies as well as to all others.
Indian communications companies, in theory, are supposed to have been addressing grievances via their call centers. However, earlier this year in a series of hearings leading to the new regulations, Trai learned that Indian consumers have been frustrated and, in some cases, have been unable to even find out who to go to with their complaints.

Under the new rules, carriers have just one month to appoint so-called "nodal officers," two months to set up call centers to receive consumer complaints, and three months to appoint "appellate" authorities who will serve as the final arbiters of complaints. The rules also set strict new requirements regarding the kinds of information consumers must receive on their bills. "Recent survey on Quality of Service sponsored by the Authority revealed that about 80 percent (of) subscribers have difficulty in understanding their telephone bills," Trai explained.
In addition to demanding that operators set up the three-tier system, Trai set strict time limits regarding how quickly phone companies must respond to consumers. Telcos will have just 72 hours to respond to complaints involving fault repair, service disruption and disconnection of service. For other complaints, answers must be provided within a week. If consumers still are not happy, they can go to the "nodal officers," who get a similar three days to deal with such complaints as service disruption. The final consumer appeal is to the so-called "appellate authority," which gets three months to answer.

Reports indicate consumer groups already are objecting to the Trai plan because it is the phone companies that will set up and run the complaint system. Trai, for its part, noted in its order that the Indian law setting up the regulator does not give it the authority to deal with individual consumers' problems. It also called its new rules "soft-touch regulation focusing primarily on self-regulation by service providers for the redressal of grievances of telecom consumers."
Trai also pointed out that while its new rules don't prevent consumers from taking any complaints they have to the appropriate courts, it hopes the new complaint system "would reduce the litigations in the courts constituted under the law to adjudicate complaints of consumers."

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