Jio sets off new telecom war with Voda Idea, Airtel over premium plans

Topics Reliance Jio | Vodafone Idea | TDSAT

The bone of contention between two telecom firms pertains to Vodafone's RedX plan which was launched last November
Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea are set for a legal battle which will determine the future of lucrative data plans. On Tuesday, the Mukesh Ambani-controlled company appealed to the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) to hear its side before passing any order on Vodafone Idea's petition against the regulatory curbs on premium plans, triggering a new faceoff in the financially stressed industry.

Reliance Jio, on whose complaint the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on July 11 blocked the premium plans of Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel, has filed an application with the telecom tribunal. Jio’s application is yet to be admitted.

The TDSAT will hear Vodafone’s appeal on Thursday as Trai sought time to file reply.  

Premium plans are important contributors to average revenue per user (ARPU) of the two telcos Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea.

They are already grappling with the issue of pending dues linked to AGR (adjusted gross revenue) in the Supreme Court. 

The AGR case, mandating telecom companies to pay a total of Rs 1.47 trillion, is coming up for hearing on July 20. Telcos have made part payment of the dues.
In the tariff plan case, the dispute is primarily over Vodafone's RedX plan launched last November. Customers were offered unlimited local and STD calls, unlimited data, up to 50 per cent higher data speed, premier customer service and Netflix subscription.  The scheme was amended in May. As of June, RedX had notched up 127,000 subscribers. While Jio — for long the disruptor in the telecom industry— has termed the premium data plan discriminatory, Vodafone has called the complaint unsubstantiated and vague.

In its application at TDSAT, Jio said it would be directly affected by the outcome of Vodafone's appeal. The company added that the outcome would impact fair competition and therefore the manner in which it conducts business. It would be determinative of the tariff plans that the applicant as well as its competitors can validly offer, Jio said. In its appeal, Vodafone Idea listed the chronology of events leading to suspension of its RedX plan.  On July 8, Reliance Jio complained to Trai about Vodafone's RedX scheme. On July 9, Trai informed Vodafone about the complaint and the next day sought details about the plan. On July 11, Trai asked the company to withhold the plan, it said.

Jio, in its complaint to Trai, said the premium data offerings were fraught with issues and could be in non-compliance of regulatory oversight. Among other things it said that no operator can give a guarantee to any customer for any minimum speed.

Vodafone Idea has said Jio's allegations were aimed at disturbing its smooth functioning. While seeking a stay on the Trai order, Vodafone Idea said the regulator acted in haste without hearing its views. The Trai order is arbitrary and illegal and amounts to pre-judging the issue, the plea stated. The RedX scheme has been in operation for the last eight months and during this period Trai never raised an issue regarding the plan being non-compliant, Vodafone Idea argued.


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