Jio asks Trai to penalise Airtel over 'misleading' ads

Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd has asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Trai to ''impose the highest penalty on Airtel'', accusing the market leader of ''misrepresenting the benefits'' of its free unlimited calls and free data plans.

''At the outset, we submit that in so far as the advertisements issued by Airtel for prepaid/postpaid tariff packs are concerned, the unlimited calls and free data being offered by Airtel is in gross violation of extant telecommunication laws,'' Jio said in a 19 January letter addressed to the secretary of Trai.

The move is the latest in a series of accusations and counter-accusations between the Mumbai-based Jio, promoted by Mukesh Ambani, and Sunil Mittal's Bharti Airtel Ltd.

Airtel is battling free services offered by Jio in the Telecom Disputes and Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) by raising questions about the extension of its free offer period till March 2017 and accusing Trai of inaction against Jio.

 ''All our tariff plans are fully compliant with the prevailing regulations,'' it said.

In its letter to Trai, Jio said that Airtel's plans do not provide either free data or calls, nor does the firm specify the benefits in its advertisements.

Citing Trai's rules to the effect that no tariff plan can be offered or marketed in a manner that is likely to mislead subscribers, and that no service provider shall discriminate between subscribers of the same class, Jio urged Trai to impose the highest penalty on Airtel.

''In view of the ... gross violation by Airtel of Trai directions, instructions, tariff orders, etc, we request the authority to take strongest action under the Act and impose highest penalty on Airtel,'' Jio said.

Trai's direction on transparency in tariff offers issued in September 2008 states that all access service providers ''shall, while publishing their promotional offers to public, specify therein: (a) the eligibility criteria for such promotional offer; (b) the opening and closing dates of such promotional offer (within the existing limit of ninety days)''.

Jio, in its letter, said that Airtel claims to offer unlimited free local and STD calls under the Rs345 special tariff voucher (STV), among other packs.

''However, in reality, these calls are not unlimited. In fact, Airtel has implemented a fair usage policy (FUP) of 300 minutes/day or 1,200 minutes/week, whichever is earlier, and post this fair usage, all calls are chargeable at Re0.30 per minute,'' it said. Therefore, these prepaid packs do not provide unlimited free calling to customers (whether Airtel to Airtel or other networks), it added.

Regarding Airtel's 'Free Data for 12 months, worth Rs9,000' on a prepaid STV of Rs345, Jio said the data benefits are provisioned only on paying the STV maximum retail price of Rs345, and therefore could not be termed free.

''Further, post expiry of the data benefits in the pack, the subscriber is charged at pay-as-you-go rates. Therefore, the free data claims are grossly misleading,'' it said. ''It is pertinent to point out that this is a highly exaggerated and misleading claim, which has been offered without providing proper disclosures or relevant information to the customers,'' Jio said.