TRAI blocks Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel’s premium offerings; claims breach of net-neutrality rules

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Updated: Jul 13, 2020 9:45 AM

While Vodafone Idea’s RedX plan has been in the market since November 2019, with some modifications made in May 2020, Bharti Airtel was soon going to launch a similar plan.

If the regulator does not find it in accordance with the norms of its tariff order, it can direct the operators to drop such plans.If the regulator does not find it in accordance with the norms of its tariff order, it can direct the operators to drop such plans.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has directed Vodafone Idea to drop its RedX plan, which offers higher speed to its premium customers. It also asked Bharti Airtel to explain within seven days how a similar plan being launched by it does not violate the rules of net neutrality.

While Vodafone Idea’s RedX plan has been in the market since November 2019, with some modifications made in May 2020, Bharti Airtel was soon going to launch a similar plan.

The development is likely to start a fresh tussle between the operators and Trai over the interpretation of the rules of net neutrality. The issue is whether the operators can provide higher speed to its premium customers who opt for higher tariff plans without lowering the speed of other lower denomination plans. The operators feel offering higher speed, which means premium services to premium customers without blocking any sites or lowering the speed of customers in lower denomination plans does not constitute violation of net neutrality. But Trai clearly feels otherwise.

Operators said just as in fixed broadband, there are different plans offering different speeds at different price points, the same can be done in the case of mobile broadband. Since tariff plans are under forbearance, operators don’t need any prior approval for launching a new scheme, but need to file it before Trai within a week of the launch.

If the regulator does not find it in accordance with the norms of its tariff order, it can direct the operators to drop such plans.

Sources in the company said Vodafone Idea’s RedX plan was filed with Trai in November 2019 and further modifications to the plan were once again duly filed in May 2020. The plan has been in the market for last eight months and customers are already on-boarded. “There is no violation of tariff regulation on this plan. It is therefore shocking to receive a letter over the weekend now, asking us to block it without any opportunity to respond on an important matter such as tariff. We are surprised with the haste in which this action has been taken which can lead to inconvenience to customers,” sources said.

When contacted, a Vodafone Idea spokesperson said, “Vodafone RedX plan offers a range of benefits, including unlimited data, calls, premium content, IR pack etc, to our valued postpaid customers who want more. Vodafone Idea is committed to serve its customers with the best in class offerings and high-speed 4G data across all markets. VIL’s fastest 4G speed in many markets, including metros, has been verified by global testing agencies such as Ookla and OpenSignal amongst others”.

A Bharti Airtel spokesperson said, “We are passionate about delivering the best network and service experience to all our customers. This is why we have a relentless obsession to eliminate faults and have been consistently recognised by international agencies as the best network in terms of speed, latency and video experience. At the same time, we want to keep raising the bar for our postpaid customers in terms of service and responsiveness. This is an ongoing effort at our end.”

Bharti Airtel had last week announced that its postpaid customers on Rs 499 and above plans, designated as Platinum, will get several preferential benefits, including faster 4G speeds, as part of the its Thanks programme. The exclusive benefits include a preferential service at call centres and retail stores, a customised user interface on the Thanks app and faster 4G speeds by giving them preference on the network.

Similarly, the Vodafone Idea RedX plan offered preferential benefits, including superior data speeds, preferential customer service, access to airport lounges and exclusive deals on handsets, hotel bookings etc. The RedX plan can be activated for Rs 1,099.

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