Telecom tribunal TDSAT today refused to stay billionaire Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio's extended free data and voice promotional offer but drilled holes in regulator TRAI's clean chit to such offers and sought re-examination of certain issues.
Many questions on the two offers "remain un-answered", TDSAT said in an order pronounced on incumbent operators' plea for an interim relief on TRAI holding that the first 90-day welcome offer from September 2016 and the subsequent promotional offer till March 31, 2017 for continued free voice and data were distinct.
It said Jio did not comply with the tariff reporting requirement with the welcome offer.
In absence of any stay, the extended promotion offer will expire on March 31 without an adverse implication for customers.
"We accordingly direct TRAI to re-examine the issues ... and take necessary action, if any. TRAI shall apprise the tribunal about the outcome/findings of the examination along with reasons thereof, and action taken, if any, within two week from today," TDSAT said in the eight-page order.
The order further said, "in so far as issues related to predatory pricing, IUC compliance and non-discrimination are concerned, they will be subject to final adjudication".
TDSAT said that after perusal of the documents filed and submissions made by all the parties concerned, it finds that many questions "remain un-answered" in respect of the two free offers - the Welcome Offer and the Happy New Year Offer.
"TRAI has stated in its letter dated January 31, 2017, that the Welcome Offer is a promotional offer. As per the filed document, it is a Plan Voucher. TRAI has stated in its affidavit dated February 16, 2017 that the 'offers were/are a component of all post-paid and pre-paid tariff plans'. Both positions are non-consistent. TRAI is directed to examine this," TDSAT said.
The tribunal further noted that as per the tariff order, service providers are obliged to report to TRAI any new tariff or any changes therein within seven working days from the tariff implementation date.
"Since change regarding limiting the offer to 90 days was requested after more than a month, RJIL (Reliance Jio) did not comply with the reporting requirement...Authority is directed to examine this issue," it said.
Other issues that TRAI has been asked to examine are whether reducing the availability of the offer to December 3 from December 31, amounts to reduction in benefit; whether the tariff plan filed on September 1 can be considered or marketed as promotional offer since it is a 'plan voucher'.
"It appears that TRAI has examined the tariff filed on
September 1 as a promotional offer. However, any tariff plan is expected to be implemented as it is filed; in this case as a plan voucher...TRAI is, however, required to examine these terms and conditions as part of the 'plan' as filed and not as a separate 'promotional offer' as well," TDSAT said.
The tribunal further observed that the availability of special benefits as per the terms and conditions of the plan is limited to less than six months.
"Thus subscribers enrolled in the plan do not effectively have the same tariff available for six months. Is this consistent with the provisions of Telecom Tariff Order as mentioned," it pointed out asking TRAI to examine the matter.
It further said that as per the design of the plan, subscribers get variable benefits within the same plan. "Does this fall within the definition of non-discrimination? TRAI is directed to examine this point," it said.
Jio had launched the inaugural free voice and data plan in September last year, and in December, extended the freebies till March, 2017.
Following this, the existing players such as Airtel and Idea moved the telecom tribunal against Trai for letting the new operator continue the free promotional offer beyond the stipulated 90 days.
The operators criticised the regulator for being a "mute spectator" to alleged violations.
On January 31, Trai had held that Jio's free voice calling and data plan were not in violation of the regulatory guidelines.
Trai had further said its examination had revealed that the 'Happy New Year Offer' launched by Jio on December 4, 2016, is distinct from its earlier Jio Welcome Offer and could not be treated as an extension of the promotional offer as the benefits under both differed.
Recently, Jio announced that it will start charging for its mobile services from April 1.