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Vodafone-Idea, Airtel strongly defend priority plans; say no service deterioration for other users

In a letter to TRAI, Vodafone Idea Ltd (VIL) said the benefit featuring network priority "is fully compliant to all applicable tariff orders.

Airtel
Airtel (Airtel/Facebook)

New Delhi, Jul 24 (PTI) Telecom operators Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel have vehemently defended their priority plans, which came under regulator TRAI's glare, and have argued that the offers have not deteriorated experience of other network users, nor violated any norms.

They said the subscribers of the plans constitute only a small portion of overall customer base.

In a letter to TRAI, Vodafone Idea Ltd (VIL) 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".

VIL, which recently obtained a stay from the telecom tribunal and is free to onboard new customers to its priority plan for the time being (while Trai examines the issue), has asserted that disclosures made in terms/conditions of the offer "are adequate and not misleading by any means".

Last week, telecom tribunal TDSAT had stayed TRAI's recent 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 (TDSAT) 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. It had also said VIL should be given opportunity to explain any alleged contravention of the regulator's directions.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had, earlier this month, had questioned the two telecom companies on whether network preference to specific customers came at the cost of deterioration of services for other non-premium subscribers.

VIL has argued that the offering in question - the RedX plan - was launched in November 2019 and has 1.27 lakh subscribers. Vodafone Idea said that during the eight months that its plan was operational, TRAI never raised any concern suggesting that the plan was, in any way, non-compliant with any provisions.

VIL further pointed out that it has undertaken substantial addition of capacities, and optimisation resulting in more efficient use of spectrum, and better services despite unprecedented traffic growth.

"Thus, question raised by TRAI is based on incorrect premise that VIL is not creating additional capacity," the company said.

Further, it said the number of such customers is miniscule fraction of overall base (much less than even 0.01 per cent of subscriber base and less than 0.13 per cent of 4G users). Data usage of such customers is less than 0.4 per cent of overall 4G data usage.

"Considering that usage of Vodafone REDX plan users is very miniscule, it will not be correct to assume that by providing a better experience to such nominal base and in such manner, the overall experience of more than 99.99 per cent customers gets impacted," Vodafone Idea said in its response. It also added that the company was also complying with service quality norms.

In its letter, VIL has blamed free services, unlimited packs and daily packs which were initially allowed at below cost prices for the sector's financial plight.

"The free services, unlimited packs or daily packs of data usage in GBs at below cost prices, when introduced were not questioned by TRAI... The concerns for capacity constraint and quality of service were far more material under those circumstances and were not raised then," VIL said.

VIL added that if the concern regarding capacity issues and impact on users is being taken so seriously, "we would like to draw your attention to the past precedence where TRAI decided not to interfere on the action of a telecom service provider who introduced free or below cost prices with unlimited or heavy daily usage packs on data and when the impact was exponentially large on consumers and industry".

Meanwhile, Airtel has also sent out a detailed response to TRAI's questions on its priority plan, where it has said that its offering constitutes 1-1.5 per cent of the subscriber base.

"Capacity upgrades are initiated on sites with congestion to maintain an optimum level of internet speed both for our platinum and non-platinum customers.

"Hence, the impact of applying priority to an insignificant base of 1-1.5 per cent users and that too for short duration of congestion, does not have any significant impact on the experience of non-platinum data," Airtel has said.

It said providing faster 4G data speeds to platinum customers has not degraded other customers' experience.

Airtel said it consistently complies with TRAI's network service quality norms, and has worked towards improving capacity, quality, and coverage.

"Having said this, the performance of our network has improved significantly in the last 6-9 months...Further, all efforts are made to resolve the complaints of all the customers," Airtel said.

It also added that therefore, the present offer of the platinum class is not at all a ploy to encash customer sentiments on poor network coverage. 

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