The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has instructed all Access Service Providers to submit details of segmented offers – i.e. special rates offered to a portion of subscribers – that were provided between April 2018 and March 2019, ordering operators to hand over the data within 15 days. The matter has been the subject of a bitter legal feud between the incumbent cellcos on one side and newcomer Jio and the TRAI on the other. Jio and TRAI have argued that segmented offers violate non-discrimination rules by allowing operators to provide the same service to different customers at different rates. Incumbents Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea claimed that banning the practice would give Jio an unfair advantage, would be impractical and would negatively impact their capacity to attract and retain customers.
A decision from the Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) in December last year offered a compromise by providing the TRAI with authority to scrutinise segmented offers to ensure that service providers were adhering to principles of non-discrimination. To that end the TDAT’s decision granted the regulator powers to ‘call for details of any segmented offer about which it may receive complaints,’ a process which it made easier by also allowing the TRAI to also call upon service providers to ‘continuously, on a monthly basis’ inform the authority on the number of segmented offers they had offered to existing customers, along with a declaration that the same benefits had been made available to all existing customers of the same segment or class.
The TRAI’s order has seemingly combined the two sets of powers, though, demanding detailed information on a monthly basis from the providers, potentially complicating matters for the companies affected. The Economic Times quotes Rajan Matthews, the head of the industry group the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), as saying: ‘Our members are studying TRAI’s direction, and they will subsequently discuss and directly engage with the regulator on the feasibility of the same’. Mr Matthews added that the COAI would seek legal advice to check that the TRAI’s direction falls within the parameters of the TDSAT decision.