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How Airtel Defines Unlimited

This is priceless: Bharti Airtel, in its submission last year, to the Indian Telecom regulator TRAI on issues relating to misleading advertisements (specifically, including the unfair “Fair Usage Policy“), has inferred that the meaning of ‘Unlimited’ needs to be looked at from the perspective of the conditions imposed, and “the limits set out by most service providers is implicitly unlimited since the capping on usage is done at a very high level.”

Erm… someone tell Airtel that “Unlimited” refers to an absolute, and there is no implicit definition of the word, unless they want to write their own dictionary. It’s quite simple – if you’re putting caps on your broadband plans, then don’t advertise them as unlimited.

In our opinion, this is just the beginning: we’ll see more of this with 3G mobile broadband plans, and if Airtel Broadband intends to not remain a dumb pipe, then net neutrality (via preferential bandwidth allocation, lower latency) will be an issue for Airtel broadband VAS.

Extract from Airtel’s submission (pdf, page 12):

11. Do you agree that the instances of ‘misleading’ tariff advertisements listed in this paper adequately capture the actual scenario in the market? If not, provide specific details.

We disagree with some of the instances of tariff advertisement classified as misleading in the Consultation paper for the following reasons:

a) While we agree that a strict definition of the word “Unlimited” would mean ‘without any limits’, we beg to differ with the use of the word “Unlimited” in tariff advertisements being termed as misleading. The limits set out by most service providers is implicitly unlimited since the capping on usage is done at a very high level.

b) It is our belief that if transparency in communication is maintained by stating upfront the usage limits (which are genuinely very high), we feel the customer is adequately informed to make a reasoned choice and hence this would not amount to misleading the consumer in any manner.

c) The word “Unlimited” has to also be seen from the perspective of the conditions imposed. For example, in the Fair Usage Policy on Internet Broadband, we have defined fair usage levels for unlimited data transfer plans and needless to mention, the usage levels set are very generous and such that most customers will not be affected by the Fair Usage Policy. This also has no impact on the data transfer limits which remain unlimited. To address TRAI concern on the “Common man”, the criteria for ‘Fair Use Policy’ is based on the maximum use by common man i.e. number of calls, minutes consumed, data volume/ speed etc.

d) The Authority we believe would appreciate that, the purpose behind having the Fair Usage Policy in place is that the service providers want heavy usage customers to use their service extensively, but at the same time are cautious to avoid any kind of abuse by a select few customers that would result in poor customer experience for the larger base of customers using the service. Thus the intent of Airtel’s Fair Usage Policy is only to provide the optimum internet experience to all customers.

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