The consumer has been the real loser so far and when the licensor is not thinking from consumers’ viewpoint, at least the government should

The Additional Solicitor General’s (ASG) opinion that Department of Telecom (DoT) could terminate licenses of operators has further complicated the inter-operator 3G roaming issue rather than resolve it.

DoT certainly gets a boost with this new-come support, while it’s yet to be seen how telcos respond to the ASG’s opinion. Given also that ASG’s statement may even be interpreted as the government’s opinion, there is a risk that telcos’ tiff with DoT would turn into a conflict with the government.

At this stage, it’s important that the government remains equidistant from both the licensor (so what if it’s a government department) and the industry, so as not to lose sight of the consumer’s interest.

Who wins in the long run is another matter, the consumer has been the real loser so far.

Today, no matter who is your 3G provider you can’t get a pan-India service access. So if you are a Reliance 3G subscriber in say, the circle of Mumbai, you don’t get access when roaming in Karnataka for instance, because Reliance doesn’t have a 3G license there. Likewise, if you are an Airtel 3G subscriber from Delhi then you don’t get 3G service when roaming even in the adjoining circle of Haryana.

It’s been past high time that the inter-operator 3G roaming tiff between the Department of Telecom (DoT) and telcos got sorted out for good, in consumers’ interest.

Instead, there comes a new twist.

In this situation, when the licensor is not thinking from the consumers’ viewpoint, at least the government should. No, I’m not saying that the industry is pro-consumer, but then the inter-operator roaming measures they have taken or intend to take would certainly benefit the consumer.

It’s important to first agree upon the end vision and objective, which understandably should be the right to seamless service access [3G] to the consumer, across all telecom service areas.

The government should approach the entire situation with this objective in view and facilitate an agreement between the two parties accordingly. En route, if any structural changes are required, so be it. After all, 3G auctions contributed Rs 67,719 crore to the exchequer and it is the responsibility of the government to see to it that the airwaves it auctioned do reach those who were to be the final beneficiaries—the consumers. 

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