The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on Saturday ordered Vodafone Idea and Airtel to stop offering premium 4G plans that promised faster speeds for customers paying more. The Economic Times first reported on the development. In letters and questionnaires to the telcos, TRAI asked the telcos how they would promise faster speeds for some consumers if telcos never promise baseline speeds for mobile broadband in the first place. The regulator also noted that Airtel introduced this plan at a time when telecom operators complained of increased network congestion amid the COVID-19 pandemic (Vodafone Idea had introduced a similar plan back in November).
“Will the act of providing priority to some, not affect the QoS of the rest on the network, as you are not creating any additional capacity and re-distributing the existing capacity,” TRAI asked the telcos in its questionnaire to them. A senior TRAI official told us that the letters were sent to protect the interests of customers on non-premium plans.
In a statement shared with us, Airtel had this to say: “We are passionate about delivering the best network and service experience to all our customers. This is why we have a relentless obsession to eliminate faults, and have been consistently recognized by international agencies as the best network in terms of speed, latency and video experience. At the same time, we want to keep raising the bar for our post-paid customers in terms of service and responsiveness. This is an ongoing effort at our end.”
Vodafone Idea said that it would have a statement to share soon. We will update this post when they do.
TRAI’s questions to telcos
Here’s an edited version of TRAI’s questions to telcos.
- There’s increased congestion in telecom networks and consumers are complaining of lower speeds. How will Vodafone Idea/Airtel ensure that non-premium customers continue to get good quality of service? Isn’t redistributing existing resources going to impact quality of service for customers paying less?
- Telcos have always said that since signal strength and bandwidth depend on a variety of factor for mobile broadband, they cannot commit to an average or minimum speed for customers. Now that premium plans are being introduced, how can non-premium subscribers raise concerns about service quality?
- By signing up subscribers to the premium tier, are service conditions being changed for them unilaterally? How do you communicate this to those subscribers?
- Does giving premium subscribers priority when networks are congested not impact regular subscribers? If not, how do you prove that?
- What does “Priority on Network” mean? Are resources being reserved for premium subscribers? If not, how would Airtel/Vodafone Idea subscribers know that they are being provided the service they were promised?
- Is any verifiable network or service parameter being assured to premium subscribers? If not, are ads for priority 4G misleading?
- Would a device on a priority subscription be able to tell that the user is subscribed to a premium plan? If so, what are the technical details of this?
- The Quality Council of India has defined multiple parameters on LTE standards. Is Vodafone Idea/Airtel compliant with the latest requirements set by the QCI?
- What information is being provided to premium subscribers? Is this information enough for them to make an informed decision?
- Aren’t telcos cashing in on customers facing network issues? What specific and definite advantage are premium subscribers getting?
- “Priority 4G Network” and “Faster Speeds” are ambiguous terms, and terms & conditions for these plans do not elaborate on what customers on these plans will get. This violates TRAI’s 2012 direction on transparency in advertising mobile tariffs. You are required to explain this.