TRAI Poses More Questions To Airtel, Vodafone Idea On Priority Plans; Seeks Explanation On Aug. 4
Customers gather outside a multi-brand mobile phone store displaying signage for Airtel and Vodafone in the old Delhi area of New Delhi. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)

TRAI Poses More Questions To Airtel, Vodafone Idea On Priority Plans; Seeks Explanation On Aug. 4


Not satisfied with responses submitted by Bharti Airtel Ltd. and Vodafone Idea Ltd. on priority plans, telecom regulator TRAI has shot off additional "technical" queries to both the operators and asked them to explain their stand on Aug. 4, a source said.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India wants the two companies to substantiate their claims that the contentious priority offerings, which are under the regulator's lens, have neither deteriorated experience of other network users nor violated any norms.

Another source said Bharti Airtel has been asked over two dozen questions, including if limits for data speeds have been set for platinum and non-platinum users, and about the levels of throughput for platinum users.

TRAI sent out fresh set of questions to both Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea on July 31, and the operators have been asked to respond to the questions on Aug. 4.

Emails sent to Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea did not elicit a response.

TRAI has said it is desirable that points raised in the questionnaire be covered in a presentation scheduled on the issue on the same day. The regulator has asked the companies to back their claims via data, the source said.

A TRAI official said the previous responses received from companies were "vague" and gave no real assurance to address regulator's concerns over whether network preference to specific customers resulted in deterioration of services for other non-premium subscribers.

The regulator wants the companies to demonstrate certain claims made by them that there is no adverse impact of the said premium/platinum plans on network experiences of general customers.

If operators can prove that they can indeed guarantee some speed to certain types of subscribers, then the regulator could mull getting into setting quality standards for non-premium subscribers as well, the official said.

Earlier this month, the two telecom operators responded to TRAI's previous round of questioning where they vehemently defended their priority plans, and argued that the offers have nor degraded network experience of non-premium users nor flouted any regulations. They said the subscribers of the plans constitute only a small portion of overall customer base.

In a letter to TRAI, Vodafone Idea had said the benefit featuring network priority "is fully compliant to all applicable tariff orders and regulations" and that "TRAI has prejudged and prematurely concluded poor network service".

On July 17, the telecom tribunal had stayed TRAI's order on Vodafone Idea, which had asked the company to withhold its offering promising priority 4G network on RedX plan.

At the same time, the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal had said it would be open for TRAI to proceed with the inquiry and pass final orders in accordance with law at the earliest after ensuring that requirements of natural justice are satisfied.

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