Source : ETTelecom.
TRAI - Telecom Regulatory Authority of India
NEW DELHI: India’s telecom regulator has barred mobile-phone operators from offering different plans to subscribers in the same category, limiting the ability of incumbent telcos to sell customised plans to retain customers seeking to switch their loyalties to Reliance Jio.
“The authority directs all the Access Service Providers to ensure that all the tariffs offered to the consumers shall not be discriminatory between the subscribers of the same class, and to ensure that every tariff that is offered to a customer is invariably reported to the authority as per the reporting framework under the forbearance regime,” the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) said in a two-page order Thursday.
The existing rules require telcos to report all plans to Trai within seven working days of introducing them.
Thursday’s order means that the telcos, although free to offer any plan to any customer on clearance from Trai, would not be able to offer customized packs to an individual subscriber: The moment an order is filed for clearance with the regulator, it becomes available to all. Besides, the order takes away the advantage of bespoke plans for a telco, or the confidentiality of such offers.
Moreover, incumbents have hundreds of existing plans, and the approval for each additional plan could lead to breaching the limit of up to 25 plans a month that a carrier can file with Trai. Jio, which started commercial services on September 5 last year, has a limited number of plans on offer.
Trai Thursday said it had received complaints that some service providers were introducing tariffs without filing them with the regulator, and that they were offering “discriminatory tariff to individual customers within the same class”.
The directions issued in the form of a tariff order came after complaints to Trai from Reliance Jio that Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea were offering special tariff vouchers (STV), packs and discounts to influence those users wanting to shift out of their networks to Jio. The Reliance-owned Jio and the three incumbent service providers are engaged in a price war to attract and retain users.
Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea had previously denied all allegations, claiming they were in full compliance of regulatory guidelines, including tariff orders and MNP (mobile number portability) regulations. The companies didn’t comment on the regulator’s order Thursday.
Officials at Trai said that besides the letter from Jio, they had received complaints from consumers who had referred to or contested plans that were not available on the Web sites of the telcos.
The Mukesh Ambani-owned carrier had highlighted the lack of transparency in tariff offers last month, and accused the incumbent competition of making surreptitious, personalised offers to select consumers in violation of existing rules.
Jio had alleged that some telcos were offering special tariff plans to select customers to prevent them from porting "under the garb of usage and retention," adding that some of these offers were being communicated to consumers in a personalised way through 10-digit mobile numbers, instead of being published. The practice violated current rules, Jio said.
Jio added that the actions of the rival telcos violated the tariff reporting requirements and breached the monthly permissible limit of 25 plans (prepaid and postpaid).
Jio had also alerted Trai about two of Bharti Airtel’s tariff offers (Rs 293 and Rs 449), complaining that the Sunil Mittal-owned telco was discriminating between 4G and other subscribers. It claimed that Airtel was providing headline benefits only to new subscribers with 4G handsets, while others were being given substantially lower benefits on both data and voice services.
The allegations intensified an ongoing war of words between Jio and the incumbent telcos, who have been fighting on issues such as trial of services, points of interconnection, and interconnect charges since the newcomer's entry last September.
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