MUMBAI: Reliance Jio Infocomm (Jio) has issued a defamation notice to Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents all major telcos and its director general Rajan Mathews , demanding a public apology for stating that the telecom regulator has favoured the Mukesh Ambani owned operator in its tariff related policies. In its notice, the telco said it is within its rights to take COAI and the three top incumbents to court , seeking damages .
“COAI and Rajan Mathews are hereby called upon to issue a public apology and issue appropriate clarification expressly regretting their callous and defamatory statements through a separate press release issued no later than 48 hours from receipt of this notice,” said the Ambani owned company in its notice to COAI.
The Ambani owned firm has also said that it reserves “its rights to initiate criminal and civil defamation proceedings, including for damages, against both COAI and incumbent dominant operators (IDOs), jointly and or severally” .
COAI on Tuesday, accused the telecom regulator of issuing a series of regulations over the past 12-18 months, including the latest order on predatory pricing, that allegedly favour Reliance Jio, which started services in September 2016. COAI, Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular did not respond to ET’s queries on the notice.
The notice termed the COAI’s comments as” reckless, wilful and flagrant act of making slanderous and libelous accusations ” against Jio.
The latest entrant in the telecom industry demanded that operators’ association “immediately cease and desist from publishing false and defamatory imputations” against Ji0.
Jio alleged that COAI used to be the “official voice of the Indian Telecom Industry” but has now been reduced “to becoming an instrument and mouthpiece of Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea (including Telenor, now controlled by Bharti Airtel)”.
Jio alleged the cellular association of scuttling any “regulatory development aimed towards greater fair market access for new entrants and greater transparency and lowered costs for the consumers”.
The Ambani owned operator in its grievances against COAI said that it did not reach out to Jio for its opinion before sending out its release on Tuesday and is being used to put forth the interests of the incumbents at the cost of the industry at large.
The notice said the dominant incumbents “conspired and deliberated on the matter, and instigated the COAI to issue the Press Release with malicious intent to cause harm to the reputation” of Jio.
COAI in its earlier statement had said that Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) tariff order amendments was “strengthening the ambitions of one particular operator with deep pockets and monopolistic designs at the expense of otheroperators. According to Jio, COAI blamed the operator for reforms that will benefit both industry and consumers.
The operator with 160 million subscribers said COAI’s comments that TRAI’S decision to slash interconnect user charges or definition of predatory pricing would benefit Jio was false and defamatory.
Jio also highlighted COAI’s comments on how the latest predatory pricing rules will benefit “one operator”. The crux of the matter in Trai’s latest order is flexibility on pricing given to operators with less than 30% of subscribers and revenue, which top three telcos contend benefits Jio.
According to the amended tariff order, predatory pricing would telco’s average variable cost and whether there is specific intent on the part of a carrier to reduce or kill competition.
The telecom regulator too has dismissed as “baseless” allegations by India’s top three operators that its recent rulings and policies are biased against them and said the companies are free to move court if they find any anomaly in its orders.
Cellular operators have “got into the habit of making allegations that are baseless and lacking in substance,” Telecom Regulatory Authority of India secretary SK Gupta told ET on Wednesday. Jio in its notice said that these rules will apply to all telcos and will not benefit anyone in particular.
The telecom industry for the past year and a half has been at loggerheads. Reeling under more than Rs 7 lakh crore of debt and facing a sharp fall in revenue, profitability and free cash flows, forcing many operators to shut down or merge with larger players. Market leader Bharti Airtel has announced its intentions to pick up the wireless business of Tata Teleservices, having earlier bought Telenor India. RCom exited its wireless business and sold most of its wireless assets to Jio.
Vodafone India and Idea Cellular, the second and third largest telcos, are on track to merge their businesses.
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