There is no doubt that Reliance Jio has disrupted the telecom sector in India by offering freebies like free data, unlimited calls and SMS, and premium content via its Jio suite of apps. Now, Airtel, India’s leading telecom operator has approached Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) against TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India). In its 25-page letter addressed to TDSAT, Airtel is disputing TRAI’s decision to allow Jio to offer its services for free post 31 December 2016, which will beyond the allowed duration of 90 days for running any promotional offer. Airtel has also blamed TRAI as being a “mute spectator” to the violations committed by Reliance Jio.
Airtel has alleged Jio has been violating TRAI’s tariff orders since March 2016, and has thus caused “significant prejudice and day-to-day loss” to it by “affecting its network” as a result of asymmetric calls origination from Jio network.
It is worth noting that Jio launched its free voice and data plan on 4 September which was to be valid till 31 December, however, Jio has now extended it till 31 March 2017 under the ‘Happy New Year’ offer.
The petition was mentioned before a bench of TDSAT on Friday and Reliance Jio’s counsel was asked to be impleaded as a party to the case. TRAI has replied that it needs more than 10 days to take a decision, whereas TDSAT has directed TRAI to come back with decision on the next day.
The next date of hearing is on 6 January 2017. Airtel has alleged the TRAI’s decision dated 20 October where it “erroneously concluded” that Jio’s promotional offer of free services was valid only till 3 December, which is consistent with the “90 days” direction of TRAI for running a promotional offer.
“The TRAI further without affording any reasoning baldly, cryptically and in a non-transparent manner in violation of Section 11(4) of the TRAI Act concluded that the Tariff Plans offered by the said telecom service provider (TSP) are not non-compliant with Interconnection Usage Charges (IUC) and are not predatory and discriminatory at present. The impugned decision of TRAI is thus bad in law and deserves to be quashed,” Airtel alleges in its petition.
What Happens To Jio Users Now?
If TDSAT finds Airtel claims to be true and consistent with the law then it will direct Reliance Jio to stop offering free services. This will force Jio to start charging its subscribers well before the expiry of its ‘Happy New Year’ offer. When this happens, many Jio users who are only after freebies will either stop using Jio network or will subscriber to its entry-level plan offering unlimited voice calls across the country at just Rs. 149.
Now it has become a game of wait and watch. If Jio continues to offer freebies till 31 March then it will have a huge impact on Airtel and other leading telecom operators, if not then the data hungry Jio users will start looking for other alternatives (like BSNL unlimited 3G @ Rs. 1,099) that offer huge volume of high-speed at an affordable price.