In a major embarrassment to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) on Thursday asked it to re-examine its stand on Reliance Jio’s Welcome Offer and Happy New Year offer.
The tribunal has questioned the regulator on eight counts. The posers basically highlight inconsistencies in the manner both the tariff plans were filed by Jio and the way they were examined by Trai, raising questions over their legality. Although the tribunal did not stay Jio’s Happy New Year offer, which is open till the end of March, it gave Trai two weeks’ time to respond to its queries. Thereafter, it will examine their legality and whether the regulator was right in judging the tariff plans as non-discriminatory, non-predatory and IUC-compliant. The nature of questions asked will surely embarrass the regulator.
After RJio’s Welcome Offer launch, Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular had petitioned TDSAT, alleging that Trai acted as a mute spectator while Jio flouted regulatory norms and that its tariffs were discriminatory, predatory and non-IUC compliant.
Trai and Jio have so far said the Welcome Offer (WO) was valid from September 5, 2016, till December 3, 2016, while Happy New Year (HNY) was valid from December 4, 2016, till March 31, 2017. However, TDSAT highlighted that Jio had filed its tariff with Trai on September 1, 2016, calling it base plan with validity of six months beginning September 5. The tariff filed under this never mentioned the Welcome Offer. Later in a letter dated September 27, 2016, Jio mentioned the Welcome Offer but did not specify what it is. On October 12, it requested Trai to consider the special benefits as promotional offer for a period of 90 days starting September 5 and ending December 3, but benefits offered will continue till December 31, 2016. On December 7, 2016 Jio filed HNY offer as a promotional offer starting from December 4 till March 3, 2017, offering up to 1GB data per day.
The TDSAT has asked Trai that under forbearance operators are free to announce tariffs without prior approval from the regulator but need to file with it seven days after it is announced. Since Jio intimated Trai about the 90-day limit after more than a month, it did not comply with the seven-day period of reporting the tariffs. Second, a tariff plan cannot increase rates for a period of six months, but Jio reduced it from December 31 to December 3, 2016.
The TDSAT then asks that even if the delay in informing about the 90-day period is not taken on record, still the tariff falls short of complying with the 90-day period cap and also violates the regulation of not reducing the benefit before six months because earlier 4GB data was provided per day till December 31 but later under HNY, it was cut short to 1GB per day. The TDSAT has also asked Trai that how can an operator provide variable benefits to the same set of subscribers in a given plan as it is not allowed under the regulations.