Trai blocks Airtel, Vodafone and Idea premium plans

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The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has blocked Bharti Airtel NSE 1.06 %’s Platinum and Vodafone Idea NSE 4.28 %’s RedX premium plans provides faster data speeds and preference services. TRAI revealed these schemes could lower the quality of mobile services for those consumers who haven’t opted for them.

The decision formed an apparent reaction from Voda Idea, with a senior executive speaking the Telcom was “surprised” at the speed with which the authority acted “over the weekend,” without enabling it to answer.

TRAI on its directives and reason behind the directory

A Telecom Regulatory Authority of India official said that apart from the impact on quality, they are evaluating whether the offers violate net neutrality rules “as the telcos appear to be reserving away on a public data highway that uses public resources for the exclusive use of rich customers.” But this aspect didn’t figure in the letters sent to the two telcos.

On July 11, TRAI directed Airtel and Vodafone Idea to keep, with quick effect and till further orders the two plans to facilitate a detailed study of both schemes regulator. TRAI suggested them to protect the interests of users who have already enrolled for the offers. TRAI has sent letters, and the operators have been told to respond in a week.

Telecom operators on the new directive

A Vodafone Idea executive complained about the notice from Trai, stating “it is offensive to receive a letter over the weekend, asking us to block our RedX plan without any chance to respond on an important subject such as tariff, particularly as there is no violation of tariff regulation on this plan.”

The executive said VIL was amazed at the speed with which this action was taken that can cause inconvenience consumers, given that the telco’s RedX plan was registered with Trai last November and in May after changes. According to him, the RedX offer has been in the market for more than eight months, and many users are already using it.

A VIL spokesperson told the company “is engaged to serving its customers with the best-in-class offerings and high-speed 4G data overall markets.”

Airtel did not talk on Trai’s directive or on whether it would try legal redressal, but said its Platinum offer is part of an effort to boost the bar in terms of service and responsiveness, and that the telco aspires to give “the best network and service experience to all our present consumers.”

The telcos are examining legal rights, but no decision has been taken until now; also, people are aware of it. Last week, Airtel gave faster data speeds on priority to Platinum users, who can also experience preferred services at call centers and retail points. VIL launched its RedX plan in November. It is offering up to 50% faster speeds and other specialized services.

Both offers are seen as attempts to increase the base of higher-paying customers to raise average revenue per user. TRAI’s notice breaks a time of relative harmony in the sector, which was before Reliance Jio’s entry in September 2016 and soon after it had seen the telcos at loggerheads with the regulator over matters such as segmented offers, points of interconnection and usage charges, predatory pricing, all of that moved to court.

TRAI wants an explanation from Airtel and Vodafone Idea

The TRAI wants Airtel and Vodafone Idea to explain if users of the two plans enjoy higher 4G speeds at the cost of service decline to other costumers. TRAI claimed if the guarantee of network priority can sneak the overall quality of services and given that they are not generating additional capacity. It asked if they have given “a performance assurance and reserved network resources” for Platinum and RedX costumers.

Net neutrality specialists aren’t convinced about the two offers as, according to them, they are breaking the rules around a free web. Prasanth Sugathan, the legal director at Software Freedom Law Center, spoke that “providing faster data speeds does not amount to a net neutrality violation… that can happen if Platinum and RedX customers are offered different network speeds to access content on selected websites.”

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