Effective consumer broadband labels the need of the hour

Media Mama, August 10, 2017

The year 2016 saw India dethroning USA to become the second largest user of smartphones in the world which gave a big boost to mobile broadband. With increasing competition and upgradation to 4G, prices for mobile broadband services have crashed to an all-time low. With nearly half a billion telecom subscribers consuming over 1.00 gigabyte per month now, this is nothing short of an amazing achievement. However, on the flip side, when Digital India is the mantra, the pride in this is tarnished by the poor Quality of Service (QoS) and Quality of Experience (QoE), badly affecting both consumers and the economy. Service providers have to gear up to deal with this in a transparent manner.

Digital India, the ambitious flagship initiative of Government, rests on nine crucial pillars. The first and foremost pillar is ‘Broadband Highways’. It is therefore axiomatic that widespread availability of good quality broadband is a sine qua non for achieving Digital India. Unfortunately, India rates very low in the global ranks as regards broadband adoption – as low as 156 of 179 countries ranked.

Ironically, both the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ are equally unhappy and dissatisfied with broadband services. While the excluded are unhappy due to lack of services, the included are unhappy because of lack of quality. Despite the telecom sector witnessing a cut-throat competition on prices, quality has remained largely poor and unaddressed since long.

A recent study by CUTS International and IIT Delhi found that the perception of consumers in India towards the QoS of their mobile internet services is quite poor. In general, a majority of consumers grumbled about the broadband speed and the download limit. It is therefore high time that the telecom industry starts competing on quality and not just the prices.

In India, selecting a broadband service by consumers has invariably been based on hearsay, operators’ claims and confusing ads. The market abounds with claims on speed by different players along with disputes on testing methods and results. Consumers can hardly ever base their choice of provider because of: firstly, lack of information to compare, and secondly, lack of a tool to compare. This has always resulted in an uninformed decision making by consumers. Availability of information thus plays a very critical role in empowering consumers.

For information disclosure, countries such as Singapore and UK have designed an efficient mechanism that mandates broadband service operators to provide complete information to subscribers through their websites. In 2016, the USA regulator, FCC, introduced the concept of labelling broadband services similar to the nutrition labels displayed on food packages. This mandates operators to disclose QoS parameters through a standard label to consumers. India needs urgent action on this front and it is heartening that TRAI is examining the matter seriously.

The authors are Secretary General of CUTS International and President of Broadband India Forum, respectively. Rahul Singh of CUTS contributed to the article.

This news item can also be viewed at: