Former DHI Chairman drags Bhutan Telecom to OCP for overbilling

The OCP recently gave its verdict asking Lyonpo Om Pradhan to pay only pay 50 percent of the roaming bill

Former Minister and DHI Chairman Lyonpo Om Pradhan filed a case with the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) under the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) against the Bhutan Telecom Limited (BTL), in April 2017 after he was charged Nu 170,624.90 for the BTL roaming service on his phone during a two-day visit to Kolkata, India.

OCP investigated the case by consulting with international experts, and the case was then forwarded to the Dispute Settlement Committee under OCP comprising of members from the Royal Government of Bhutan, Civil Society Organizations, senior citizens and experts.

The Dispute Settlement Committee looked into the various provisions of OCP, and it was learnt that both the parties has failed to perform their responsibilities as a consumer and service provider respectively.

An official from OCP, Jigme Dorji, said that Lyonpo Om had availed himself of the roaming service while serving as the Chairman of the Druk Holding and Investments Limited (DHI), and as a chairman of DHI, the roaming facility was given free of cost.

He further stated that having used such a facility, Lyonpo was aware of the roaming charges, but knowing how much he will be charged, Lyonpo used the service and claimed the amount from BTL. “Lyonpo should have re-subscribed the roaming facility when his term as the chairman of DHI was completed but he still used it,” Jigme Dorji said.

On the other hand, he added, Bhutan Telecom, being the service provider, should have informed Lyonpo that since his term as the DHI’s chairman was completed, Lyonpo should re-subscribe the service if he desired to continue it, following the proper procedures like filling up the forms where all the terms and conditions are reflected.

He said, “Bhutan Telecom has also failed to display charges on their websites which they are required to do.”

Since both the parties have failed in their responsibilities, the Dispute Settlement Committee decided that Lyonpo is liable to pay only 50 percent of the total roaming charges, that is Nu 85,312.45, to Bhutan Telecom. The decision was made on July 2019.

Roaming service is available to only post paid users with a security deposit of Nu 10,000. According to the terms and conditions, international roaming is more expensive as compared to local tariff plan, and customers should ensure that they select an appropriate roaming option according to their needs. The customers must take the responsibility to familiarize themselves with the relevant charges before activating the service, as charges with some networks are more expensive than others.

Customers are also charged for both incoming and outgoing calls while using the roaming facility on their phone. The mobile device may automatically select a different foreign network depending on the network coverage conditions and this could impact the rates charged. Lower rates are charged if the roaming is done with appropriate Bhutan Telecom partner network.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Bhutan Telecom said, “We don’t determine the charges for roaming service because we are going into somebody’s network and roaming, and that operator will determine the tariff. If someone comes to Bhutan and roams in Bhutan Telecom’s network and roams here, then we will determine what kind of charges to apply.”

He added the BTL has no control over the foreign networks and charges. “We tried to negotiate with operators to bring down the charges, but at the end, it is on operators to how much they can charge.”

He also said the BTL website contains information on roaming services and any other services provided by BTL. “But we have not gone to every customer to tell what they have to do to avoid bill shocks and maybe that is where we are lacking,” said the CEO

“Maybe our fault is that we have not informed the customers on how much they will be charged by different operators, and we can’t do that either. Now, with recommendation and suggestions from OCP, we will be informing our customers about services we provide,” he added.

Lyonpo said while he was serving as the chairman of DHI, (from 2007 to 2014) the office availed roaming service on Lyonpo’s name without signing any agreement with BT or depositing security amount of Nu 10,000 but it he was not aware of the fact that he was using roaming service as all the bills on roaming service was paid by the office.

In March 2017 Lyonpo visited Calcutta for a two-day visit and precisely after a month, Lyonpo received a bill worth Nu 170,624.90. Upon inquiring with BT, he learnt that the bill was on roaming but despite several arguments with BT, he failed to convince Bhutan Telecom that he wasn’t aware that he was using the roaming service.

Lyonpo argued that BT’s rules and regulations clearly states that if any BT customer wants to avail roaming charges in India, they will have to sign the agreement by depositing NU 10,000. “In my case, I haven’t signed any agreement nor paid Nu 10,000,” said Lyonpo.

BT’s rules and regulation also says that a person have to sign the agreement and pay Nu 10,000 every time he or she goes to India and use roaming services.

Lyonpo said, “BT insisted that I had used roaming service while serving as the DHI’s chairman and even after that because I paid off the small bills on roaming and when confronted with huge bill I am denying that I was using the roaming service. I want to clarify that I wasn’t even aware or didn’t look into those small bills.”

As he was not able to resolve the issue with BT, Lyonpo sought OCP’s intervention by formally lodging a complaint with OCP on June 2017.

Lyonpo Om said that with OCP’s mandate being to protect the consumer’s right, OCP did not perform its duty.

“The main reason why I needed OCP intervention was because BT has signed an agreement with Vodafone for roaming service and BT has also paid a huge amount to Vodafone which would come in crores as all the bills of VVIPs, VIPs, Ministers and Secretaries were paid by offices and when it comes to private citizens, since the charges are exceptionally high, not just me but every other private parties would refuse to pay such huge amounts for roaming,” said Lyonpo.

Lyonpo said, “Even BT was not happy with the decision not because of the case but they were scared that they will be questioned by the Audit because they have been paying crores to India without question except when it comes to private parties.”

“Why I took up this case is because BT gets only 15 per cent of this money but I don’t understand why they are paying so much to India. How is BT’s management responsible in signing an agreement with Vodafone in India and pay such a huge amount without question which makes me think something is wrong here,” Lyonpo said.

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One comment

  1. Lyonpo Om Pradhan

    Just to clarify my position on this issue:

    1. BT has a standing procedure and regulations to enable its customers to avail roaming telephone services in India through their partner Vodaphone. This is for customers to sign an undertaking, receive briefings from BT on roaming, and place a security deposit of Nu 10,000. Only after following this procedure before visiting India each time is the customer eligible to use Vodaphone’s roaming services. In my case I explained I had not signed such an undertaking or deposited the security amount. Hence, I was not eligible according to BT’s laid down procedure for the roaming services of Vodaphone, their partner! BT or Vodaphone should not force their roaming services on such an uncommitted customer! Hence, the principle of the “rule of law” was violated by BT not following its own official procedure. Or else, why have the procedure?
    2. I strongly advised DHI and BT to do away with their agreement on roaming with their partner Vodaphone. It was unnecessarily creating serious problems between them and their mostly innocent Bhutanese customers. Instead they should advise and facilitate their customers to use pre-paid SIM cards in India and elsewhere.
    3. BT did not seem to be the beneficiary of the high and unreasonable charges imposed by their partner Vodaphone as they took away 85%. This was also a drain on Indian Rupees from Bhutan. Why have such an agreement at all?
    4. Private customers could not afford to go to court against BT. BT may be able to go from Dzongkha Court to High Court and up to the Supreme Court with no personal loss, as the organization has their own official lawyer and the time and expenses are that of the organization. A private party has to personally incur lawyer fees, and spend time and money! It may not be worthwhile for the private party even winning the case in the top court.
    5. The government had established the Office of Consumer Protection, which seemed to decide cases through a Dispute Settlement Committee consisting of officials from various agencies. BT being a government organization refused to accept the verdict given by the Committee. The question was then why was the OCP or the committee established at all at government expense?

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