Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mobile phone cos fear losing 60% NE users

The department of telecom (DoT) deadline for re-verification of prepaid users in the Northeast expired Wednesday amid chaos that cemented the fears of cellular service providers losing at least 60% of their subscribers in the region. BSNL and private players such as Airtel, Bharti Aircel, Vodafone Essar, Reliance Communication, Tata Teleservices and Idea had begun the re-verification process following a DoT directive on October 20 last year. The job was entrusted to some 50,000 franchisees and retail outlets across the eight states.“We had almost completed the re-verification process within the earlier deadline of December 31 when the telecom ministry issued a fresh directive about acceptability of documents as per guidelines applicable in Jammu and Kashmir,” said a top executive of a leading private cellular service provider.As per the revised notification, only copies of passport, driving licence, pan card, arms licence, pass book of post offices or banks together would be acceptable along with photograph. The documents de-recognized were certificates issued by gram panchayats, caste and domicile certificates issued by governments in the Northeast and voter I-card with hologram issued in the region before 2008.Voters in Assam have not been issued I-cards after 2008. In the other seven states, such cards have either not been provided or issued without hologram.“Our rural subscribers and daily-wagers are hardest hit by the new guidelines since they either have pre-2008 voters ID or papers issued by panchayat authorities. For students, only certificates issued by government educational institutions will be accepted. This has deprived thousands of students studying in private institutions away from home,” said a BSNL officer.Mizoram-based Lalbiakliana, 19, studying in a private college in Guwahati, has already reconciled himself to life without mobile outside his native state. “I am sick of all one re-verification after another,” he said.According to the mobile phone companies, at least 60% of 16.5 million users in the Northeast will lose their connectivity because of the “ridiculous” revised directive. “The terrain and manpower constraints in the region were not taken into consideration when the last directive was issued extending the deadline to January 19. We can’t get our customers back if we aren’t given time until July,” a franchisee head said.Home ministry officials said the directive was necessary as the region “is influx and militancy-prone”. Besides, rebels and terrorists “have been easily getting multiple mobile phone connections” with ease.Civil and consumer rights activists pooh-poohed this argument. “The Northeast today is more peaceful than most of India including the Maoist belt. Equating us with Jammu and Kashmir is an insult and gross injustice to our peace-loving people,” said consumer rights activist Deven Dutta.He also flayed New Delhi for the DoT decision to consider the re-verification process as an experiment for six months. “Are we guinea pigs that need to be experimented upon?” he said.Others said New Delhi should have removed certain restrictions along with seeking re-verification. These include allowing roaming facility for prepaid users of the Northeast elsewhere in India and vice versa. As of now, prepaid users in the Northeast are barred from availing roaming facilities. Likewise, prepaid users elsewhere in the country cannot operate their handsets during visits to the Northeast.


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