Updated at July 13, 2020:
Vodafone Idea has now moved to Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) against TRAI’s decision to block its Premium/Priority plans. The telco has also requested an urgent hearing on the matter.
Our original story from Monday, July 13, 2020, follows:
The recent so-called “premium” plans from Indian telcos like Airtel and Vodafone Idea offered Preferential treatment to its subscribers. Those who are willing to pay more would get better and faster 4G speeds and additional propriety benefits. The whole scheme feels odd, we as a normal user now seems to be getting substantially lower 4G speeds or could say we’re being offered a low quality mobile service. So, it seems the telcos are putting restriction to a public resource (spectrum) and providing exclusive plans only for rich customers.
The whole preferential treatment plans or schemes seems a somewhat clear breach of our net neutrality rule. Under the net neutrality rule, all Internet communications (4G data, 4G VoLTE voice calls etc.) should be treated equally. There shouldn’t be discrimination or charge differently based on plans or schemes. That’s exactly what our telcos Airtel and Vodafone Idea seems to be doing.
But some telecom analyst differ, as one can always offer better services for expensive subscriptions. This won’t violate the any rules relating to net neutrality.
Indian telecom watchdog Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has taken notice of this whole preferential treatment with premium mobile plans that offered faster data speed and priority service for high-paying customers of Airtel and Vodafone Idea. The regulator has now stepped in and asked the telcos to stop (or more correctly, blocked) the entire premium mobile plan. This decision would block Airtel’s Platinum mobile plan, which was announced on 6th July for its postpaid subscribers. It would also block Vodafone Idea’s RedX premium plans for its postpaid mobile subscribers.
According to TRAI, this preferential treatment with premium mobile plans from the telcos violates its norms. This type of schemes could lower the quality of mobile service for those who can’t pay for it or haven’t opted for it.
“It (the plans) is in violation of quality of service norms. It shortchanges the existing customers and it is also not clear what the new customers are being offered as the parameters are not quantifiable,” said a TRAI official to Mint. The regulator also said to be evaluating any violation to the net neutrality rules, “as the telcos appear to be reserving a lane on a public data highway that uses public resources (spectrum) for the exclusive use of rich customers,“.
TRAI’s intervention seems to have taken Airtel and Vodafone Idea by surprise.
A senior executive from Vodafone Idea said, “it’s shocking to receive a letter over the weekend, asking us to block our RedX plan without any opportunity to respond on an important matter such as tariff, especially as there is no violation of tariff regulation on this plan,”.
They were surprised by the sudden decision from TRAI, as the REDX plan was launched November last year (modified in May this year) and was also filed with TRAI. So, this premium plan has been in the market for more than eight months now and hundreds of customers are already on board.
However, Airtel did not comment to TRAI’s new block order on its newly launched Platinum plans. But said, “we want to keep raising the bar for our postpaid customers in terms of service and responsiveness. This is an ongoing effort at our end,“.
It’s said that the telcos are exploring legal options, people aware of the matter said. At the time of writing both telcos are still offering this premium plans for its customers through their official website.