Jio, Airtel and Voda Idea unite to oppose Trai's tariff transparency drive
20 February 2020
Telecom service provides in India, including Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, irrespective of their market rivalry, are on the same page on a key issue concerning transparency in tariff plans.
All three telcos have strongly discouraged the sector regulator on the need to publish details of all plans, including those not on offer but active. They said publication of withdrawn offers, active only among a few users, would create confusion, leading to a surge in customer complaints.
In a consultation paper issued on 27 November 2019, Trai had invited industry stakeholders’ comments on enhancing transparency in tariff rates and disclosure of services charges. It had also mooted an idea of introducing tariff calculator to help customers find the best plans to suit their usage.
The sector regulator had sought views on higher transparency in details of unlimited data plans, where promised speed is provided only up to a certain level of usage and information is concealed in service thereafter.
"The transparency in communication is not only relevant to ensure that consumers benefit from the access to critical information regarding the product/service but also to maintain and increase the competition intensity, vital for growth and development of the sector," Trai had said in its paper.
Jio in its submissions to Trai said if plans not available for subscription to new users are published along with all plans available, there’s “liable to be confusion for a customer, leading to unwanted complaints”. It added users “might like an unavailable plan, and complain to the Authority” if unable to subscribe to the same.
The limited set of existing users availing of such plans - not otherwise on offer to new users - it said, are “fully aware of applicable benefits, terms and conditions”.
Airtel in its submission said, “display of all plans, including those not on offer,” would make “customers unhappy” and also impact “quality of services at telco call-centres” if awash with queries about plans no longer available for subscription.
Vodafone Idea aid publishing details of “many withdrawn plans” would end up “consuming a lot of space, cost, and cause unnecessary confusion for consumers”.
While Airtel and Vodafone Idea have been sparring with Jio on the matter of transparency of tariff plans just three months ago, some offers, especially counter-offers to retain users, had to be kept confidential to protect competitive advantage.
Mukesh Ambani-led Jio had then batted for all plans to be made public on a common platform.
Subsequently, in December 2018, the Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) set aside a rule in Trai’s earlier predatory pricing regulation that required big telcos to report all tariffs in the interests of transparency and non-discrimination. It had then ruled that segmented offers and discounts offered in ordinary course of business to existing customers without any discrimination within the targeted segment did not amount to a tariff plan and needed no reporting in the manner prescribed for regular tariff plan.
The telecom tribunal’s verdict had allowed the then dominant players – Airtel and VIL – to continue offering customised discounts to retain subscribers, and they also wouldn’t be bound to report those to the regulator or make them public.
The Big 3 telcos now appear to have buried their differences in their latest submissions, in response to Trai’s recent paper on ways to boost transparency levels in all tariff-related communications of phone companies to protect consumers.
On Trai’s call for a standard template for publication of tariffs, Jio said any “further intervention by the Authority” would tantamount to micro regulation, and would “irreversibly affect the well turned out policies of forbearance and light-touch regulations”.