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Consumers to be left in lurch as internet shut down extend in Uttar Pradesh

The prolonged internet shut down across Uttar Pradesh has irked consumers who are being made to pay for services that they cannot avail.

According to a Mumbai-based telecom major, there will be no compensation, either in the form of extended validity of prepaid packs or a waiver in monthly bills, from the telecom companies to consumers who have been affacted by the shut downs.

“The internet shut downs are being enforced as per the government directives. Telecom companies would usually give waivers like free calls and a relaxed billing cycle in the event of a natural calamity that damages infrastructure, but not when the government diktats are leading to the disruption of services,” the telecom company official said.

Telecom service providers now charge consumers for the number of days of service they provide to them. A monthly prepaid service pack would typically cost the consumer around ₹250 and offer 1 GB to 1.5 GB data per day with unlimited calls across all networks. In some cases, these calls are also routed through the mobile internet service. The customer essentially ends up paying only for the data service and number of days the service is valid.

Consumers are now pointing out steps that telecom companies should take to rebuild consumer confidence. “With the Internet shut for over a week now, I would be paying a fourth of my monthly mobile bill without availing the data service. Since calls are largely free now, we pay our bills only to have access to mobile data,” a private telecom mobile service subscriber said.

Mobile internet services continue to be disrupted across parts of Uttar Pradesh on Friday, marking the eighth consecutive day of shut downs. In fresh orders issued on Thursday night, the services were scrapped for another 24 hours across 18 districts of Uttar Pradesh, including Ghaziabad.

As per the Telecom Statistics of India (TSI) 2018, Uttar Pradesh has 167.59 million wireless telecom (mobile) subscribers. These users are evenly spread across urban and rural regions. With 14.1 per cent of the total subscribers, the State has the highest number of mobile users in the country.

Making losses

The shut down has evidently crippled internet banking, app-based cab aggregator services of Ola and Uber, and app-based food delivery services of Zomato and Swiggy. As a spill-over effect, there has been a substantial drop in the sale of Compressed Natural Gas in the cities where the Ola and Uber services were plying.

“The mobile internet services resumed for a few hours in Lucknow yesterday and we could do some business. But now the service has been shut again and we are continuing to make losses. It will be difficult for us to pay the monthly instalments to lenders as the cars have been financed through banks,” an Ola driver told BusinessLine.

The cab drivers also said they would not want to be identified for fear of crackdown by the state administration as being supportive of anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests that have gripped the state.

‘Shutdowns have become a habit’

A telecom industry association representative said, “Telecom licensees have to abide by the government orders to suspend/shutdown internet under their license obligation. On August 8, 2017, a Gazette Notification was issued describing the process of this shutdown. The orders have to come from the Secretary, MHA or Secretary to the State Government in charge of Home Department, or by an officer not below the rank of Joint Secretary to the Government of India, who has been duly authorised by the Union Home Secretary or the State Home Secretary (subject to confirmation from MHA or state Home Department within 24 hours).”

“Despite the above Rule, Internet Shutdowns have become a habit. They are imposed in India more often than in all other countries combined, sometimes for bizarre or trivial reasons. It is clearly visible that internet shutdowns don’t stop demonstrations. Nor do they hinder the circulation of rumours. On the contrary, they encourage them instead, as there is lack of clear communication to the people in general. It is estimated that the shutdown of internet services leads to a loss of ₹2.45 crore per hour across the value chain,” the representative said.

Source: The Hindu