TRAI Bans Airtel Platinum, Vodafone RedX Plans; Accuses Telcos Of Discriminating Between Rich, Poor Users
Telecom operators Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea provide premium plans to their ‘rich’ (executive) customers, offering them upto 50% faster data speeds and priority services.
These plans are Bharti Airtel’s Platinum plan and Vodafone Idea’s RedX Premium Plans.
In letters dated July 11, the telecom regulator TRAI has blocked these premium plans by Bharti Airtel and VIL, saying that such plans and schemes could impose lower quality mobile services for users who haven’t enrolled for such plans.
TRAI Blocks Premium Plans
The telecom regulator sent 2 letters on July 11, to Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea Ltd, stating to “withhold, with immediate effect and until further orders” the two premium plans, which would further “facilitate a detailed examination of both schemes” by the regulator.
The main reason behind this move is to check if there is any undue network priority being provided to such premium plan users, at the cost of service deterioration to other user, or whether there is a creation of any additional capacity.
The regulator also put forth the question of there being a performance commitment or reserved network resources for the Platinum and RedX users.
TRAI Suspects Net Neutrality Breach through Such Premium Plans
On record, TRAI has suspended such premium plans offered by the 2 telecom regulators, on the basis of protecting quality of mobile services for the ones not associated with such premium plans.
However, on an off-record basis, the telecom watchdog suspects that such premium plans breach net neutrality rules.
It states that through such offers, these telecom opearters “appear to be reserving a lane on a public data highway that uses public resources (spectrum) for exclusive use of rich customers”.
It also asked if they have given “a performance commitment or reserved network resources” for Platinum and RedX users.
However, it has had no mention of this reason in the letters sent out to the telcos.
However, net neutrality experts do not think that such offers provided by the two telcos, break any rules in relation to breaching net neutrality around a free web.
In fact, according to the legal director of Software Freedom Law Center, “offering faster data speeds does not amount to a net neutrality breach… that could happen only if Platinum and RedX customers are offered differential speeds to access content on select websites”.
What does Vodafone Idea have to Say about this?
VIL is surprised with the haste in which TRAI took such a big decision and immediately suspended the telco’s RedX premium services, in a letter sent by the regulator over the weekend.
The telco complains that the whole action was taken so swiftly that they did not even have a chance to respond on an important matter like tarrif, especially when there is no violation of any tariff regulation in their RedX plan.
An executive at VIL said that such a step taken by TRAI could lead to inconveniences to customers using their RedX plan, given the fact that the RedX plan was in fact filed with Trai last November and in May after modifications.
He also stated that the plan has been in the market since the past 8 months, with many customers already on board.
The VIL spokesperson also clarified that the company is committed to serve its customers with the best-in-class offerings and high-speed 4G data across the market.
Airtel’s Views on the Matter
Just like Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel clarified that its Platinum plan aims to raise the performance bar in terms of service and responsiveness, expecting to deliver “the best network and service experience to all its customers.
However, unlike VIL, Airtel did not comment on Trai’s directive or whether or not it would seek legal redressal.
Last week, Airtel offered faster data speeds on priority to Platinum users, who would also enjoy preferential services at call centres and retail points.
plan aims to widen the base of higher-paying customers to boost average revenue