The Supreme Court on Friday upheld Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's (Trai) plea seeking details from Bharti Airtel Ltd and Vodafone Idea Ltd on segmented tariff or specific offers for some of their customers.
A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde, held that the Trai was within its power to seek details from the telcos. It observed that the information sought by the regulator was in light of principle of transparency and non-discrimination, and not prima-facie illegal or unjustified.
The bench, also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, directed the telcos to disclose in details the information sought by the regulator. It asked Trai to ensure that all information provided by the telcos is kept confidential and not disclosed to any third person, especially competitors.
The three-judge bench had reserved the order in the matter on 27 October, after conclusion of detailed hearing of arguments by both sides.
Trai had made it mandatory for telecom operators to disclose information on all such plans but Airtel and Vodafone had opposed the regulator's decision, seeking relief from the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) on the grounds that these offers were not tariff plans and, thus, did not need disclosures.
Rival Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd and state-owned mobile operators have complied with Trai’s order. The regulator was approached by Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio which had complained about the offers being made by Vodafone and Airtel for a limited set of customers.
The TDSAT ruled in favour of Airtel and Vodafone, which argued that Trai’s order would violate commercial confidentiality and help rivals poach their subscribers. The appellate tribunal said Trai had no authority to call for such general information from operators.
Following this, Trai had moved the Supreme Court challenging the TDSAT order. The apex court had refused to stay the TDSAT verdict.
Trai has since modified its order to seek information on segmented offers for a limited period. Chief Justice Bobde observed that the TDSAT order on the issue was ambiguous.
Segmented offers are promotions and discounts made to customers showing inclination towards shifting to other telcos. To retain such users, telcos offer superior data speeds, preferential customer status, access to over-the-top (OTT) streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, use of airport lounges, handset deals and hotel bookings, among others.