Vodafone Idea gets TDSAT relief, allowed to offer premium tariff plans

Topics Vodafone Idea | TDSAT | TRAI

Vodafone Idea had moved the TDSAT after Trai put on hold the premium plans offered by telcos.
In a breather to Vodafone Idea, the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) on Friday allowed the telco to get new customers for its premium tariff plans. The TDSAT, while posting the matter for August 17, said the direction issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to suspend the premium plans lacked prima facie reasons.

Vodafone Idea had moved the TDSAT after Trai put on hold the premium plans offered by telcos. Through a communication last weekend, the regulator had asked  Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel to stop offering the plans, citing discrimination to other customers. The Trai action followed a complaint by Reliance Jio against the premium plans.

Since the TDSAT’s temporary stay is specifically for Vodafone Idea, it’s not clear whether  Bharti Airtel would be able to offer its premium plan to new customers. Bharti did not move the tribunal in this case and there’s no decision yet on whether it would take the legal route as well.  

The regulator had asked Vodafone Idea to freeze its RedX plan for high-end post-paid customers.  Launched last November, RedX offered customers unlimited local and STD calls, unlimited data, up to 50 per cent higher data speed, premier customer service and Netflix subscription. As of June, it had 127,000 subscribers.

While granting interim relief, the tribunal has asked Vodafone Idea to respond to a Trai questionnaire by July 22. It referred to the Authority’s concern for transparency or the lack of it which may have misled consumers into subscribing to the various tariff plans.

“The only justification that suspension (of the premium plans) would facilitate detailed examination by Trai is found to be devoid of any merit. During submissions also, it has not been shown that for detailed examination by Trai it is necessary to withhold/suspend the Vodafone RedX offer forthwith,” the TDSAT said.

Trai can now proceed with the inquiry and pass final orders in accordance with law at the earliest after ensuring that requirements of natural justice are satisfied and the appellant is given the opportunity to explain any alleged contravention of extant directions of the Authority, the TDSAT has 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 of the plan. On July 11, Trai asked the company to withhold the plan. On the same day, the regulator also directed Bharti Airtel to discontinue its Platinum plan launched recently for postpaid users.

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

Vodafone Idea 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, according to the telco.

Reliance Jio filed a plea with the telecom tribunal to be made party in the Vodafone Idea case, while stating  that the outcome impacted its business.

On Reliance Jio’s plea, TDSAT said, "So far as the appeal is concerned, it is admitted for hearing. No notice is required to be issued as concerned parties have already appeared. So far as prayer on behalf of Reliance Jio is concerned although no relief is sought against it but it is clear that inquiry has commenced on the basis of a letter of the applicant dated July 8." TDSAT has asked Reliance Jio to file its reply by July 31.

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