Monday, Nov 24, 2003
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By N. Ravi Kumar
Though the telecom corporation said that the drop would be across the spectrum of the services - basic (wired), GSM and WLL mobile, expectations of an overhaul of the structure seem to be strong among the landline users.
One reason for this could be their number - Chennai Telephones, the arm of BSNL operating the services here, commanding slightly over 10-lakh landline subscribers. Moreover, "it is the landline, where the prices never reduce, moving against the tide of falling tariff in the telecom sector", said Shobha Iyer, co-ordinator of the Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group. An end to the "discrimination against the landline users, who pay comparatively more for calling a GSM (cellular) line" was what is required, she added.
While consumer bodies throw up various possibilities, the common thread running across their suggestions is the need for a structure, where the user pays for actual usage instead of being saddled with a huge monthly rental commitment. "It is not enough if more choices, in the form of alternative packages, are made available as what the subscribers actually look forward to is enhanced transparency", said T. Sadagopan, vice-president of the Thandurai Pattabiram Consumer Council.
The technical limitations of the switches at the exchanges to handle "too many permutations and combinations" can be overcome with the Call Data Records-based billing system, the BSNL sources said. On the likely changes in the tariff structure, they did not discount the possibility of the rent being increased with more free calls. "The idea is to increase the usage by making the local calls virtually free," an official said. A simpler alternative would be to reduce the rent, increase the free calls and drop the call charges marginally - almost to the level before the last revision of the tariff by the BSNL in May this year.
Confirming that tariffs were bound south, the Chief General Manager of Chennai Telephones, K.B. Brahmadathan, said the revision was being taken in view of the new inter-connect user charges announced recently by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. He, however, did not elaborate on the likely changes, saying zonal meetings of the BSNL officials discussing the framework were underway.
Simultaneously, the subscribers also expected improvement in the customer-service levels of the BSNL. Ms. Iyer said, "initially, there should be better flow of information about the changes, especially the tariff packages." One grey area for the subscribers was the mechanism for registering telephone complaints, Mr. Sadagopan said, pointing out that the timings for filing them were not clear. The complaint register at the exchanges in many suburban areas including Thiruninravur and Ambattur was kept open for subscribers only between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Many of the subscribers were not "too comfortable" with the IVRS for registering their complaints.
Mr. Brahmadathan, however, said Chennai Telephones was continuously taking measures to improve customer service.
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