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CCI to investigate Airtel, Idea, Vodafone & COAI after Jio’s complaint: reports

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has ordered an investigation into alleged anti-competitive practices committed by Airtel, Idea, Vodafone India and lobbying group COAI for apparently trying to block Reliance Jio’s entry into the market, according to his PTI report. Sources who did not wish to be identified told the publication that CCI will probe COAI’s functioning since the investigation was aimed at its members—Airtel, Idea, Vodafone. Jio is also a member of COAI.

The operators and COAI were named in a complaint filed against them by Jio in November. Jio alleged that Airtel, Idea and Vodafone had formed a cartel to restrict its operations by denying interconnection points. This ET report also quoted unidentified sources who said that CCI will additionally probe into alleged blocking of MNP facility for users looking to shift to Jio. The interrogation will be conducted Section 26(1)  the Competition Act, which looks into the investigation of complaints made under antitrust charges.

An Airtel spokesperson told MediaNama that company has “not received any such communication from the CCI and would, therefore, not be able to comment. We have already stated that we have always responded with alacrity and provided a staggering quantum of PoIs to Reliance Jio in record time.” Airtel, however, did not provide details of the total number of PoIs deployed, when we asked. Idea, Vodafone and COAI’s Rajan Mathews are yet to reply to MediaNama’s queries.

Airtel, Idea and Vodafone already have lead market shares

Note that, prior to Jio’s entry, the three operators—Airtel, Idea, and Vodafone—led the market in terms of subscribers numbers. They accounted for more than half (68%) of the active mobile connections in India in June 2016. Jio’s entry might have hurt its rivals in terms of revenue and ARPU but the three operators named above continue to lead the market. They held 65% of the active connections as of December 2016—three months after Jio’s entry when it had 72 million connections.

Apart from this rival operators had come together in the past to create joint ventures:
Vodafone is merging with Idea, which can potentially make the merged entity the biggest combined company in the industry.
-Airtel, Idea and Vodafone jointly own a tower infrastructure company named Indus Towers which is a threeway joint venture between the three telcos. It had signed a tower sharing deal with Jio in 2014.
– Airtel and Vodafone had formed a joint venture called FireFly Networks in March 2015 to offer WiFi services in the country.

Jio v/s rival operators

Jio and its rivals have clashed on a number of issues like:
Internet speeds
Allegations of regulatory violations,
PoI blockades,
Impartial voting rights at COAI

This has also led to a number of legal cases:
TRAI v/s Airtel, Idea (TDSAT) on allegations that Jio violated tariff regulations and that TRAI was a “mute spectator”.
Vodafone v/s Jio and TRAI (Delhi HC) wherein Vodafone alleged that TRAI failed to keep a check on Jio and its free offers.
Vodafone v/s TRAI challenging telecom regulator TRAI’s Rs 1050 crore penalty. TRAI had imposed a combined fine of Rs 3050 crore on Airtel, Idea and Vodafone stating they were found to “willfully violate the license conditions” by denying interconnection point to Jio.
Jio’s original complaint to CCI last year.

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