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Supreme Court reserves judgement on ‘segmented’ telecom tariffs: what it means

Supreme Court
Credit: Aditi Agrawal

The Supreme Court on Tuesday reserved its judgement on so-called “segmented” tariffs, plans offered by telecom operators to a targeted slice of their subscribers. The Economic Times first reported the development. Segmented tariffs are plans offered to a small subset of users, such as to people wishing to leave a network as retention sops. These tariffs, which are not disclosed to the regulator or on the telcos’ own website, are mainly offered as an incentive for dissatisfied users to stay on. TRAI has scrutinised such offers since 2018, wary of the possibility that they might be discriminatory. But telcos — except Jio — have fought to be able to offer such “segmented” tariffs.

Since TRAI put out a regulation requiring such tariffs to be disclosed publicly (after prohibiting tariffs based on user class), Airtel and Vodafone Idea (now known as Vi) have resisted, largely successfully. Vodafone Idea and Airtel both obtained orders from the Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appeals Tribunal and the Madras High Court respectively blocking TRAI’s attempts to get those tariffs disclosed. The Economic Times reported that TRAI was represented in the Supreme Court appeal of these developments by Tushar Mehta, the Solicitor General of India.

These tariffs are important to Vi and Airtel because they let the telcos retain customers who want to pay less, without having to reduce prices across the board. TRAI has held that they are discriminatory, but after legal setbacks reduced the scope of its appeal to simply ask to examine the tariffs confidentially, something which telcos are also refusing to submit themselves to. Airtel and Vi have reportedly argued in court that disclosing granular segmented offers like that would make it easy for competitors to undercut them.

But the outcome of this case may not deal a body blow to telcos, now that tariffs across operators have become largely similar — they likely just needed to hold off retention tariff disclosure until market prices stabilised, and that has largely happened. So regardless of the Supreme Court’s verdict, Vi and Airtel may have very well won this round.

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