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TRAI notice to Airtel for non-compliance with new pricing rules

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued a notice to Airtel for not complying with the regulator’s tariff reporting requirements. Airtel did not inform TRAI about certain segmented tariffs offered to consumers to retain them. This is the authority’s first such notice after new rules came into force, and it has asked for a reply in the next 10 days.

In its notice, TRAI has asked about the circle-wise launch date of these tariffs, criteria for choosing consumers to offer these tariffs, and data of consumers who have availed these rates.

As per Airtel, the matter is pending with the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT).

What the rule says

TRAI’s new rules were released in February this year, in its attempt to ensure transparency and prevent discrimination and predatory pricing in telecommunication services. The amendment said, “If a telecommunication service is provided at a price below the average variable cost in a relevant market, and if this is done in order to either reduce competition or eliminate competitors in that market, then it will considered as predatory pricing.”

The order mandated for telcos to conduct self-checks to ensure their tariffs and promotional tariffs are in line with the regulatory principles. Any new tariffs or changes in it were to be reported to the authority within seven days.

Industry body Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) said that the new rules are favouring one player, hinting at Reliance Jio. It flagged the revised definition of Significant Market Power (SMP) that now excludes parameters like traffic volume and switching capacity, and said such changes will place older operators at a disadvantage and stop them from responding to “what may be actual predatory tariff plans”. This also led to a very public war of words between COAI and Jio.

Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular then approached the TDSAT for a stay on the new tariff order. While the tribunal did not grant a stay on the rules, it gave TRAI three weeks to file its comments on why the new tariff order should not be stayed.

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