The problem of dropped calls is one that practically every mobile user in India is familiar with. You’re in the middle of a conversation, when suddenly, the call gets disconnected. No, the person you were talking to hasn’t hung up on you: the call has been dropped. The call drop rate has definitely risen over the last year, and TRAI, the DoT and the telecommunications company have all had a lot to say about why.
The companies say that there isn’t enough spectrum and sufficient cellsites, while TRAI and the DoT say that there’s more to the story, and that it is the telecommunications companies that have not invested enough in the networks to ensure decent coverage. A government committee which investigated the matter sided with TRAI and the DoT on this one. Meanwhile, relations between the companies and the regulating authorities have declined, and as usual, it’s the consumer who’s getting the short end of the stick.
Here’s what the government has done so far: the ministry is auctioning more and more spectrum, while the DoT is doing its part in urging local bodies to support cellsite constructions. Meanwhile, telecommunications companies are of the opinion that buying more expensive spectrum while burden them financially, and there are still many local bodies that oppose cellsites. The courts are divided too: while the Delhi High Court, for example, upheld TRAI’s suggested penalties on the telecommunications companies for call drops, the Supreme Court is of the opinion that that would be an arbitrary use of the power of the regulatory body.
Where does this leave consumers? They find themselves in a situation where they barely receive a service that they have paid for. Their mobile networks do strange things that they can’t explain. They lose connectivity halfway through a phone call when they haven’t moved an inch, or calls get dropped seven seconds in. They are paying for mobile connectivity, but their payments are sucked into the profits of an organization that doesn’t seem to care about their contribution except as part of a bottom line.
It’s no wonder, then, that more and more people are wondering why the spectrum is licensed in the first place. In an age when mobile and internet connectivity are practically considered a basic right, why are we placed in a situation where we a) have to pay for something that is becoming essential and b) pay for it but still don’t get it half the time? After all, consumers have never had to pay for radio, which is a public service. Why is our access to the internet regulated by big business giants who, by their very nature, are not concerned with the quality of the service that they are providing as long as they can say that they are, in fact, providing it? Making the spectrum free would be a step towards removing interpersonal communication from the control of big business and bringing it back where it belongs: in the hands of the people who actually use it.