Reliance Jio has fired off a complaint to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) about third-ranked Vodafone Idea’s new prepaid tariff plans, which the telco claims could discourage subscribers from porting out to other service providers.
Jio reportedly sent a letter to TRAI last week flagging its concerns. The letter points out that Vodafone Idea has stopped bundling SMS service in its entry-level Rs 149 plan and is now offering it with a higher tariff plan of Rs 179.
According to Jio, this means low-end subscribers on lower-tier plans would be unable to switch service providers easily because they need SMS to generate a Mobile Number Portability (MNP) request code, which is mandatory for the new service provider to start the migration process.
Thus, under the new tariff regime, Vodafone Idea customers who want to port out need to subscribe to a higher plan that includes SMS in its bundle.
“As a result, users at the lower end of the plans can’t port out, and those who shift to a higher plan may not want to shift out after making the higher payment, creating a barrier for porting,” an industry executive was quoted as saying by the Economic Times.
In its letter, Jio suggested that the regulator may either consider making such SMS free, or remove the requirement that SMS be mandatory for MNP purposes.
The report added that TRAI has started examining Jio’s concerns and it will ensure consumers have all the flexibility of choice, but that it hasn’t decided on its mode of action yet.
Jio’s letter follows a similar letter by Telecom Watchdog, a non-profit organisation, which had also written to the regulator about the issue on November 25.
Telecom Watchdog’s letter to TRAI chairman PD Vaghela said: “This is a clever step by Vodafone Idea so that a consumer cannot port out to avail efficient services. This is nothing but to stop the consumers from moving to other telcos for better services. Consumers are majorly affected by this forced detention by their incumbent operator (Vodafone Idea) in this manner. This is anti-consumer and a move to scuttle the competition,”
Telecom Watchdog added that it was surprising that such kind of action by Vodafone Idea has gone unnoticed so far by TRAI, which has not initiated any action to protect the interest of consumers.
“In fact, the SMS services should be in the lowest tariff plan. We request for your urgent intervention to stop this abuse/malpractice against the consumers.”
Around 10.10 million subscribers submitted MNP requests with their respective service providers in September this year.
Cash strapped Vodafone Idea hasn’t been able to staunch the flow of customer churn from its network – it’s lost 18.8 million users just in the last year.
The telco’s base stood at 253 million users in the September quarter, down from 408 million at the time of merger between Vodafone India and Idea Cellular in August 2018.
All three telecom operators – Jio, Airtel and Vodafone Idea – have increased prepaid tariffs with an aim to increase the average revenue per user (ARPU). The tariff hike will further reduce industry competitiveness and will help Vodafone Idea in particular, which is struggling to raise money from investors.