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The SC order has dealt a blow to Voda Idea and Airtel who fear that the valuable info may fall into the hands of rivals (Mint)
The SC order has dealt a blow to Voda Idea and Airtel who fear that the valuable info may fall into the hands of rivals (Mint)

Trai can seek info on special offers

  • The top court bench had reserved the order in the matter on 27 October, after conclusion of detailed hearing of arguments by both sides
  • The appellate tribunal said Trai had no authority to call for such general information from operators

NEW DELHI : The Supreme Court on Friday upheld a Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) order seeking details from Bharti Airtel Ltd and Vodafone Idea Ltd on special tariff offers to some customers, dealing a blow to the telcos who fear the valuable customer information may fall into the hands of their rivals.

Trai had ordered the telcos to share details related to offers of higher data speeds, preferential service, access to streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, use of airport lounges, handset deals and hotel bookings, etc to customers.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, held that Trai was within its power to seek details on the special offers.

It observed that the information sought by Trai was “to ensure adherence to the regulatory principles of transparency, non-discrimination and non-predation, and this prima facie does not seem either illegal or wholly unjustified".

“A direction is issued to the respondents (Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea) to disclose information/details sought by the applicant/appellant (Trai) regarding segmented offers," said the bench, also comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian.

The apex court, however, said it is the duty and responsibility of the telecom regulator to ensure confidentiality of the information and that the data “is not made available to competitors or any other person".

In February 2018, Trai made it mandatory for telecom operators to disclose information on all such plans, but Airtel and Vodafone 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.

The regulator had acted on a complaint by Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, which said that separate specific offers were being made by Vodafone and Airtel to a limited set of customers, which were not listed under the tariff plans of the telecom companies.

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 tribunal said Trai had no authority to call for such general information from operators.

Following this, Trai first filed a writ petition at the Delhi High Court, which dismissed the plea. It then moved the Supreme Court challenging the TDSAT order. The SC had earlier refused to stay the TDSAT verdict.

Trai has since modified its order to seek information on the offers for a limited period. Chief Justice Bobde observed that the TDSAT order on the issue was ambiguous.

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