Bharti Airtel's plan to acquire Tata Tele users may face Trai hurdle

Airtel
Over the coming weeks, over 4 crore Tata Teleservices customers will be automatically shifted to the Airtel network under an intra-circle roaming (ICR) arrangement, according to the two companies. However, Telecom regulator Trai is looking to raise objections to the transition.

According to Bharti Airtel, the first batch of the transition was being effected in UP (West), Bihar, and West Bengal.

"Over the coming weeks, all consumer mobile customers of Tata Teleservices across all circles will gradually transition to the Airtel network," the company said in a statement last week.

Airtel and Tata Group had recently announced that the Consumer Mobile Businesses of Tata Teleservices Limited and Tata Teleservices Maharashtra Limited will be merged into Airtel.

Trai's objection

Trai said the prescribed procedure is being violated through a direct-transfer route. "Customers are not captive property of any company. They cannot be automatically shifted," a top official with Trai told TOI.

"Customers have a right to choose an operator of their choice in case his/her existing company decides to merge/close down or sell its operations. This can be exercised through the mobile-number portability route," the official said.

Airtel, in a statement to Business Standard, however, stated, "This is a standard ICR arrangement under which Tata Teleservices customers get access to the Airtel network. They continue to be Tata Teleservices customers enjoying the services being provided by Tata Teleservices. In no way does it curtail the choice of customers as they are free to shift to any network/operator they want to."

Airtel-Tata Teleservices deal

Under the arrangement, Tata Teleservices customers will be able to enjoy uninterrupted services on the Airtel network with their existing SIMs and billed as per their existing plans/pack benefits.

Telecom players had recently announced an agreement to merge the consumer mobile businesses of Tata Teleservices and Tata Teleservices Maharashtra into Airtel. Ajai Puri, Chief Operating Officer, Bharti Airtel assured that the "transition will be fully seamless and nothing changes for Tata customers, who will continue on the same SIM and plan".

Fair trade regulator CCI has approved Bharti Airtel's deal to takeover the loss-making consumer mobile business of Tata Group.

The deal will also require the approval of Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), stock exchanges, National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), and Telecom Department among others.

For Airtel, the deal would be the seventh acquisition in five years.

As part of the agreement, TTSL and TTML employees in the 19 circles, managing the consumer mobile business, along with 178.5 MHz of spectrum across 800, 1800, 2100 Mhz (3G, 4G) bands would be transferred to Airtel.

While all of the Rs 31,000 crore debt will remain with the Tatas, Airtel will assume close to 20 per cent of the Rs 9,000-10,000 crore deferred payments for the spectrum.