Indian advertising standards watchdog ASCI has pulled up telecom service provider Bharti Airtel for running misleading ads about tariff packs that it’s offering. In one of its ads, Airtel claimed to provide “Free data for 12 months, worth Rs 9000.” However, as per Airtel’s own data rates, which is Rs 450 per 3GB, an actual data pack for 12 months will cost much lower than Rs 9000.

ASCI also added that Airtel’s “unlimited data packs are not entirely free” since they are subject to specific tariff charges for which the customer is required to pay. The watchdog added that some data packs are valid for only 28 days and the 12 recharges of 28 days each do not add up to 12 months.

Additionally, the advertising regulator pulled up out Airtel’s unlimited calling pack ads. It pointed out Airtel’s disclaimer which mentions that ‘unlimited calling packs’ are capped at 1200 minutes per week. This means that the pack has fair usage policy (FUP) and the customer is paying for only 1200 minutes a week, and not “unlimited calls” as claimed by Airtel.  Hence, ASCI said that the claim is “misleading and contravened Chapter I.4 of the ASCI Code as well as Clause 1 of ASCI Guidelines for Disclaimers” Here is what Chapter 1.4 of the ASCI code says:

“A disclaimer can expand or clarify a claim, make qualifications, or resolve ambiguities, to explain the claim in further details, but should not contradict the material claim made or contradict the main message conveyed by the advertiser or change the dictionary meaning of the words used in the claim as received or perceived by a consumer.”

Telcos have been pulled up by ASCI and TRAI in the past

This isn’t the first time that ASCI has pulled up telecom operators for advertising their packs in a misleading manner. Idea, Tata Docomo, Aircel have been pulled up ASCI in the past for wrongly advertising tariff packs. While Vodafone, Airtel, Jio have also been pulled up ASCI for advertising misleading statements in their ads

Apart from ASCI, TRAI itself have urged telcos several times in the past to advertise FUP policies transparently without words like “unlimited”. In 2012, it directed all telcos to provide “more information” including real-time alerts on data usage. Later in 2016, it issued another consultation paper seeking clarity on how FUP is applied on telecom service. After that didn’t work, TRAI then went on to issue a different consultation on the similar issue this month.

The latest consultation looks at mandating ISPs/telcos to disclose network performance indicators to consumers such as latency, average speeds, peak time speeds, throttling practices, etc., similar to US regulator FCC’s ‘Broadband Facts’ label. This could be a probable fix and might bring in more transparency, but at a time when telcos are at their weakest, it’s unclear whether they would be willing to publish such details publicly.