India’s Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has stayed an order from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) which blocked premium plans offered by Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea without giving the cellcos a hearing. The Economic Times writes that the TDSAT found that the TRAI’s order lacked justification and had been prompted by a complaint from a competitor, Reliance Jio Infocomm (Jio). Earlier this month the TRAI had instructed Airtel and Vodafone to cease signing up customers to their ‘RedX’ and ‘Platinum’ plans – which offer priority services and faster data transfer rates – whilst it conducts a detailed review to establish whether the offerings violate rules regarding service quality and net neutrality. TDSAT’s decision noted that the TRAI did not need the providers to terminate their offerings to carry out its investigation, adding that Vodafone Idea’s offering had been available for eight months, having initially been filed with the regulator in November 2019, with a modified version submitted in May 2020. Further, the tribunal added that it was ‘clear’ that the watchdog’s action had been prompted by a complaint from Jio on 8 July; the TRAI had denied the claim, with Vodafone Idea accusing the regulator of ‘bias and mala fide’ in its appeal. Jio, in its letter to the TRAI and the subsequent TDSAT hearings, has argued that telcos could not guarantee faster speeds and that such claims are intended to mislead customers.
The TDSAT order allows Airtel and Vodafone Idea to resume sales of their plans, but does not halt the TRAI’s inquiry and the tribunal instructed the cellcos to respond to the regulator’s queries regarding the impact of the plans on service quality for other users by 22 July.