Bharti Airtel has urged the telecom tribunal to quash the telecom regulator’s order that found Reliance Jio Infocomm’s free voice and data offer to be in compliance with rules on predatory pricing, becoming the second telco after Vodafone to drag the sectoral watchdog to court on issues related to the Mukesh Ambani-owned carrier.
India’s largest telco has also urged the Telecom Disputes and Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) to direct the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to follow its own rules and pull up Jio for alleged violation of the regulator’s order that a promotional offer can’t last beyond 90 days.
Pending the final decision, Airtel has urged TDSAT to pass an interim order asking Trai to ensure that telcos comply with its rules that set the interconnect charge – currently at 14 paise a minute – as the floor for retail tariffs. Besides, it has also sought a direction to the regulator to ensure that no telco offers any promotional offer beyond the allowed maximum 90 days.
Trai on its part said that it was currently studying Jio’s new promotional tariff offer – Happy New Year – and would need 10 more days to examine and respond to the court.
Meanwhile, people familiar with the matter said that Jio requested the TDSAT bench to be impleaded as a party to the case.
The tribunal has directed Jio to file an application for the same, while the new telco is expected to do in the next three-four days. The TDSAT has set the next date of hearing for the matter on January 6.
Airtel’s move to take Trai to TDSAT comes a few days after Vodafone India dragged the regulator to the Delhi High Court by challenging Trai’s recommendation to levy a Rs1,050 crore penalty on the telco for allegedly violating rules by not providing adequate points of interconnection to Jio, which had caused huge call failures on the new entrant’s network.
Since its commercial launch on September 5, Jio has been offering a free voice and data offer till December 31 under the ‘Welcome Offer’ which was for users subscribing to Jio’s network till December 3. It has since launched another promotional offer – Happy New Year – for users who subscribe to Jio’s services till March 3. Those on the Welcome Offer will automatically get transferred to the Happy New Year plan.
Airtel has accused the Trai of being a ‘mute spectator’ watching its own telecom order and directions being violated by Jio in offering promotional offers beyond the 90-day period allowed by the regulator, “thus admittedly perpetuating illegality,” according to the petition.
Airtel claims the Welcome Offer is in violation of the telcom regulator’s own communication/order to various telecom operators on October 20, which clearly said that Jio would be allowed to continue offering the promotional tariff offer of free voice and data services only till December 3, which was the end of the 90-day tenure which any operator can avail to give a promotional offer.
“Thus, despite its (Trai’s) own avowed position that the offer of “free services” after December 3, 2016 is non-compliant, the TRAI has been acting like a “mute spectator” to the continued violations,” Airtel has contended in its petition with the TDSAT.
Explaining how Jio’s new offer was in violation of the regulator’s order, Airtel has said, “ RJIL has been offering its free services for about 12 months to all customers under the guise of various names i.e beta launch, preview offer, welcome plan and now Happy New Year Plan. These free tariffs plans for such long duration are actually equivalent to the regular tariff plans and are nothing less than predatory”.
It has further contended that Jio’s tariff plan also violated orders of Trai on ‘predatory and non-IUC compliant’ pricing.
Explaining how Jio’s tariff orders were not compliant with the regulator’s tariff orders, Airtel has quoted the tariff order passed by Trai on June 19, 2002. This order says, the interconnect usage charges or IUC – the charges which are paid by telcos to each other when their subscribers dial a rival telco’s network – will implicitly function as a floor to the retail tariffs and thereby scope for predatory pricing or cross-subsidization is limited.
Airtel has said that Jio by continuing to offer zero tariffs is pricing the tariffs below the 14 paisa per minute cost which is currently the so-called floor fixed by the regulator itself. Thus Jio’s tariff offer is IUC non-compliant, predatory and discriminatory and thus violates the TRAI’s Tariff Orders and Regulations
Bharti has alleged that in the current scenario, despite the telecom operator’s repeated requests to the telecom regulator to ensure a ‘level playing field’, the latter has failed to fulfil its statutory obligations under section 11 of the TRAI Act, thus has failed to ensure compliance with its own Directions, Tariff Orders and Regulations.
The petition sought urgent intervention from the TDSAT to immediately stop the “day to day blatant violations which are causing a serious disruption in the entire telecom industry and is completely against its orderly growth.”
The company has further specified that it is seeking relief only against the telecom regulator who has failed to perform its line of functions and not against any other party.