In a significant direction, the Supreme Court Friday ordered telecom companies to disclose to regulator TRAI the details of special tariffs and offers made to consumers. Allowing an interim application of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), a bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Jusitces A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian said that seeking adherence to the regulatory principles like “transparency” and “non-discrimination” by the telecom firms was not “either illegal or unjustified.” “In the light of the…historical background, what is now sought by TRAI to ensure adherence to the regulatory principles of transparency, non-discrimination and non-predation, cannot be said, at least prima facie to be either illegal or wholly unjustified.
“Hence the IA is allowed and a direction is issued to the respondents (Bharti Airtel Ltd and others) to disclose information/details sought by the applicant/ appellant (TRAI) regarding segmented offers,” the order said. It was the duty and responsibility of TRAI to ensure that “such information is kept confidential and is not made available to the competitors or to any other person,” the top court said.
TRAI had made it mandatory for the telecom operators to disclose information on all such plans. Airtel and Vodafone had however opposed the decision and sought 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. Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd and state-owned mobile operators have complied with the TRAI order.
TDSAT ruled against the regulator”s order saying that TRAI had no authority to call for such general information from the mobile service operators. The top court, in its order, pointed out that the jurisdiction and power of TRAI to issue the Telecommunication Tariff Order of February 16, 2018 was not “seriously disputed.”
“Though the jurisdiction and power of TRAI appears to have been questioned in one of the appeals before TRAI, the TDSAT has not recorded any categorical finding that TRAI had no jurisdiction and power to demand details of segmented offers.”
“All that TDSAT found…of the impugned order is that segmented offers and discounts offered in the ordinary course of business to existing customers without any discrimination within the target segment, do not amount to a tariff plan and that therefore there is no need for reporting,” the apex court said. Segmented offers are promotions and discounts made to customers showing inclination towards shifting to other telecom firms.
To retain consumers, the companies usually offer better data speeds, preferential customer status, access to over-the-top (OTT) streaming platforms among others. Earlier, the Delhi High Court had refused to interfere with telecom tribunal TDSAT’s interim order putting on hold regulator TRAI’s rule mandating reporting of customised discounts and concessions offered to select subscribers by older service providers Airtel, Idea and Vodafone. It had declined to stay the decision and had said it will request the tribunal to expedite the hearing of the pleas moved by Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular against TRAI’s rule.