Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is investigating if Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel violated tariff and broadcast regulations with their fixed-line broadband plans. This move follows Airtel's complaint that the newly launched JioFiber Backup plans were predatory, hurt consumer interests, hindered competition, and disturbed the level playing field in the DTH digital TV space. In response, Jio asked TRAI to warn Airtel against making frivolous complaints. Tata Play, India's largest DTH operator, also accused both operators of predatory pricing for bundling live TV channels and over-the-top (OTT) apps with their respective broadband offers.
According to an ET report, the regulator is investigating whether JioFiber is violating tariff norms by offering live TV channels through broadband plans and also checking whether broadcasting regulations are being followed. TRAI is trying to get responses from the telcos within a week so that it can quickly decide the matter, although it may take a month to finally settle the matter.
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Airtel, India's second-largest telco, claims that Jio was allowing broadcasting of live TV and over-the-top (OTT) apps, which contradicts broadcasting and downlinking rules. Airtel also has home broadband and direct-to-home (DTH) businesses. In its letter to TRAI, Airtel said, "Offering 400-550 live TV channels as part of a broadband offering well below market cost with a view to reduce competition is a clear case of predatory pricing and is in contravention of the TTO-1999 and requires immediate attention of the authority".
Jio, which also offers home broadband services with access to content apps through a set-top box, argued that it has not violated any broadcasting or telecom rules, and said Airtel's complaint was intended to corner the Mukesh Ambani-owned telecom company. In its letter to TRAI, Jio countered Airtel by saying, "This complaint (by Airtel) is a deliberate, malicious attempt by Airtel to defame Reliance Jio's consumer-friendly tariffs to protect its narrow interests."
Tata Play cited the recent JioFiber and Airtel Black plans that offer a mix of live TV channels and OTT apps. "This move of predatory pricing by telecom and broadband operators is damaging and detrimental to the DTH business, which is already saddled with multiple regulatory restrictions and is unable to negotiate with broadcasters and give such lucrative discounts to its subscribers," it said in its complaint.
The broadband market in India is expanding as Airtel, Jio, and Tata Play fight for a larger share of the customer market and wallet share. With the improvement in broadband speeds and fixed-line (home broadband) penetration, the competition between the three companies is likely to become even more intense.