Subscribers of all telecom services, whether public or private, fall in one class: they are all consumers. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) had suspended interconnectivity with private telecom companies like Airtel, Vodafone and Idea because of a dispute over payment of interconnectivity fees.
Though BSNL has since restored interconnectivity, this suspension deserves to be condemned from the consumers’ point of view. Today it is unbelievable that one is not able to ring up a friend or order a pizza if one of them is a BSNL subscriber and the other a customer of another service provider. What is shocking is that people could not get access to a doctor or ambulance in emergencies for the same reason.
Lakhs of consumers were subjected to hardship because of a dispute between these companies. Consumers were penalised by the companies in a dispute that was strictly between them and did not concern consumers. It does not matter who was right or wrong. When one subscribes to a telecom service, it is assumed that one can contact numbers of other service providers.
This is an unwritten, implicit understanding between the subscriber and the service provider and very much a basic right of consumers.
If the service provider is not able to provide interconnectivity, it amounts to deprivation of service and breach of contract with consumers — who should, therefore, be compensated. Consumers must raise their voice if such instances occur in the future. If the telecom companies are unable or unwilling to solve their disputes, consumers may approach the courts for compensation. The bottom line is that telecom companies should find a way to solve their disputes without holding consumers to ransom.