The TRAI’s move to stop premium plans by Airtel and Vodafone Idea followed a compliant by rival operator Reliance Jio.

Reliance Jio, in a letter dated July 7, had termed the tariff plans being offered by Airtel and Vodafone Idea as discriminatory. “In case a service provider deploys a method to provide priority access to only one set of customers, it will undoubtedly deteriorate the service quality available to another to another set of customers...any such offering can clearly be claimed as discriminatory,” Reliance Jio said in the letter to TRAI.

RJio further added that claims of offering higher speeds to high paying customers are not measurable or verifiable by the regulator and consumers. “Thus claims of faster speeds by the telecom service providers can also tantamount to misleading the customers,” RJio said.

Four days after this letter was sent, the regulator issued a notice to Vodafone Idea asking it to reply to the points raised by RJio. The regulator also asked Vodafone Idea to stop offering the Red X plan under which it was promising to offer higher speeds.

In November 2019, the operator had launched a premium tariff plan called Red X that offered higher data speeds. The plan was priced at about ₹1,000 a month. This plan was filed with the TRAI in November and also in May this year when the operator tweaked the tariffs. Airtel also launched a plan under which post-paid users who paid over ₹500 a month would get higher data speeds. However, it was only after Reliance Jio sent a note on July 7 that the regulator issued a notice to the operators.

“There cannot be a one-size-fits-all policy. Telecom operators should be given the flexibility to offer premium tariff plans as long as they can ensure minimum service levels for other users. The consumers should have a choice,” said BK Syngal, former Chairman of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd.

Raising issue with TDSAT

Vodafone Idea has filed a plea with TDSAT against the TRAI order. Vodafone Idea launched the new tariff plan in November and it has been told to stop offering differential tariffs eight months later, that too after a rival operator flagged the issue. The operator had submitted its tariff plan to the TRAI twice in the last eight months. It’s not clear why the regulator did not take any action for so long.

TRAI should also clarify why the operator was given only one day to present its case before asking it to stop the tariff plan.

The TDSAT, on Tuesday, refused to give a stay on the TRAI order but asked the regulator to respond to the plea made by Vodafone Idea.