Indian Telcos Meet Jury Of The People

The relationship between Communication Service Providers, regulators, subscribers and consumer groups varies widely from country to country. In the Netherlands, there is a strong consumer protection environment which makes Dutch telcos very wary of each and every customer grievance. Their approach is a good example for how regulators can foster consumer activism. I prefer that approach to the alternative you see from some other regulators – where they act on behalf of the consumer without trying to involve the consumer. The assumption those regulators make is that the consumer is too dull-witted or ignorant to understand what is going on, speak on their own behalf, strike reasonable deals with telcos or form meaningful pressure groups to force change. If you ask me, the regulators who exclude customers from the process of protecting customers are only trying to make work for themselves. These regulators act as judge and jury, and are as likely to be corrupt as any court which can ignore the will of the people. In my experience, if there is a group of customers that is savvy enough and has the facilities to organize themselves, it is the customers of telcos. All they need is a regulator that sets up the framework for dialogue and then steps out of the way.

Part of the problem is that regulators sometimes do not change as fast as the markets they regulate. Regulators that needed to bash secretive and wasteful state-owned monopolies have faced a difficult transition. They have to adjust to a world where free market competition has shifted the power to the consumer. When the market becomes as fiercely competitive as it is in much of the world today, the regulator needs to stand back and be more objective. The regulator can continue to play the part of the judge, but now has to allow consumers to play the part of the jury. So long as the jury gets the information they need, let them drive the improvement of the telecommunications industry. Of course, that may cost many regulators and so-called experts their jobs; especially when it transpires that the people can do a better job for themselves. But individual consumers and consumer pressure groups are often better-informed, more pragmatic, and much more highly motivated to reach a successful deal than the people whose employment depends on overseeing the telecoms industry. So praise must go to the Indian telecoms regulator, TRAI, for setting an example that other national regulators should follow. TRAI recently facilitated a meeting between CSPs and consumer activists in Chennai which promises to become a quarterly event. It does not really matter what was discussed – the big story here is that CSPs should have nothing to fear, and everything to gain, from listening to what the most vocal customers have to say about them. So well done to TRAI for bringing Indian customers and telcos face to face. Let us hope that other telecoms regulators, providers and consumers follow their example and become better at communicating with each other…

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.