Court dismisses Jio plea against Airtel’s ‘fastest network’ ads

07 Aug 2017


A magistrate's court in Mumbai has dismissed a plea by Reliance Jio against Bharti Airtel's advertisements which claim Airtel's network to be India's fastest.

The court rejected the plea by the Mukesh Ambani-controlled Jio that Airtel's ads - based on Ookla's Speedtest app - amount to conspiracy, defamation and breach of trust, as Ookla had no official recognition.

The court in its order said in the era of technology, service providers or any other businesses may claim themselves to be the best by way of advertisement in order to expand their business.

''It is nothing but a marketing ploy. Thus … if any service provider has chosen to adopt test methodology of its services by an independent agency wherein the said independent agency has authenticated it by its certificate, then there could not have been any dissatisfaction or wrongful losses to other competitors including complainant,'' metropolitan magistrate K G Paldewar said in an order on 27 July.

Reliance Jio first accused Bharti Airtel of airing misleading ads on network data speed in March, when it filed a complaint with the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) urging it to take action against the Airtel advertisement, which claims it is ''officially India's fastest network'', Mint and PTI report. The ad cited Ookla LLC, which tests network speeds using the Speedtest app. Ookla gave Airtel the fastest mobile carrier award in February based on consumer-initiated Speedtest results in the third and fourth quarters of 2016.

Reliance Jio questioned the Speedtest methodology, and argued that Ookla is not recognised by either the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) or the Department of Telecommunications, which meant Airtel could not use the word ''officially'' in its advertisements.

ASCI, after investigating the matter, asked Airtel to withdraw the advertisement. Jio moved the metropolitan magistrate's court after Airtel advertisements started to appear again in June. Jio alleged that it lost reputation and money on the campaign that amounts to conspiracy, defamation and breach of trust.

''Mere certification by independent agency that does not amount any wrongful loss to the complainant or public at large. Thus by no stretch of imagination, any offence as alleged by the complainant is made out against the accused. The complaint also speaks about the losses to the public at large. However, the present complaint is not in a representative character to represent the public at large ... the grievance of public at large is not within the scope of cognizance of offence vide this complaint,'' Paldewar said.

An Airtel spokesperson said that the company is grateful to the court for dismissing ''frivolous allegations'' against Airtel. ''Bharti Airtel takes great pride in maintaining the highest standards of ethics and compliance,'' the spokesperson said.

Jio did not respond to Mint's request for comment.

Data speeds have gained much attention after the entry of Jio, which is seeking to ride on growing demand for data in India. Jio believes data will change the course of mobile telephony in India, with Mukesh Ambani calling it ''the new oil''.

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