Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on July 31, 2020, sent questions to Airtel & Vodafone Idea on their priority 4G plans. Earlier, TRAI had asked Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea to block their premium Platinum and RedX plans. This was done after Reliance Jio made a complaint to TRAI.
Explicitly, in a letter, Jio asked TRAI Chairman R S Sharma to look into Vodafone and Airtel’s premium plans. The letter asks the Chairman to check if Vodafone Idea’s RedX and Bharti Airtel’s Platinum premium tariff plans comply with India’s extant regulatory framework; or if they violate consumer interest. Jio sought the regulator’s views on whether RedX and Platinum tariff offers are misleading claims made only for marketing.
On July 11, TRAI ordered the blocking of both priority plans to conduct a detailed examination of both tariff schemes.
Jio, in its letter, alleged that the arrival of VIL’s RedX and Airtel’s Platinum offers led to many Jio postpaid and enterprise customers to also enquire about similar priority access to Jio’s wireless network; at assured higher speeds.
Jio claims that it has been a proponent of leveraging latest technology to offer better speeds. While also offering better experience to all customers without discrimination. That it has never endeavoured to provide priority access. That is, neither at (the) application end in compliance with Net Neutrality requirements; nor at the customer end, in view of non-discriminatory access irrespective of ARPU.
Moreover, Jio claimed that no operator on a wireless network can guarantee a minimum speed. The reason being that bandwidth is shared in a 4G scenario. Further, Jio said any such service provider’s attempt to offer priority access to one set of customers would lead to decline in the quality of services available to another set of customers. Therefore, making such an offering discriminatory for consumers.
Additionally, claims of faster speeds by VIL and Airtel are misleading as prioritizing some consumers for providing higher speed is impossible, because that depends on external factors such as channel quality indicator (CQI), which keeps changing in a wireless network even at the same location.
Priority Plans by Airtel and Vodafone-Idea
In July, Airtel had offered faster data speeds on priority to Platinum users, who would also enjoy preferential services at call centres and retail points. Whereas, last November, VIL had introduced its RedX plan, offering up to 50% faster speeds and special services. Jio claims both offers are attempts to increase the number of higher-paying customers to boost average revenue per user.
Notably, Vodafone has alleged in the past that regulatory decisions in India unduly favoured Reliance Jio for the past few years; which has hurt the business interests and financials of competing players as well as the broader telecom industry.
Further Questions by TRAI
TRAI questioned Vodafone Idea’s RedX plan and Airtel’s Platinum plan to provide priority on network and also higher speeds; when both have claimed that they are not offering differential broadband speeds under any wireless plan in their past submissions to the regulator. In separate letters to the service operators dated July 31, TRAI asked the companies why they did not label their respective new plans as “new types of services”. This would have made the regulator examine them differently before their launch in the market.
TRAI is investigating whether the combination of faster data speeds and network priority access services offered on RedX and Platinum causes degradation in services quality of non-priority users. TRAI has asked both operators if they are “controlling maximum throughput (data speeds) in their respective networks” for each subscriber. That is, for user services such as video streaming, conversational video and FTP (file transfer protocols). The regulator is examining what would happen during network congestion when non-priority VIL/Airtel users are surrounded by priority customers.