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Jio rejects Airtel charge on predatory pricing of TV channels

Reliance Jio has slammed Bharti Airtel for filing a complaint with the telecom regulator over live TV channels offered with JioFiber, saying the rival company’s sole grouse was the reasonable tariffs of JioFiber.

Jio dubbed the charges made by Airtel as a “deliberate malicious attempt to defame” RJIL’s consumer-friendly tariffs to protect “narrow interests.”

In a letter to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, Jio said, “Airtel should be warned against making such frivolous complaints in the future.”

The offensive came after Bharti Airtel told the regulator TRAI that broadcasters were violating the downlinking policy by providing broadcast content to unregistered digital distribution platforms.

Airtel’s submission to the watchdog is seen as an apparent reference to Jio TV showing IPL 2023 matches.

Jio referred to a Trai letter dated March 31, 2023, seeking comments on Airtel’s complaint about alleged predatory offers of live TV channels with broadband plans by Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd.

“At the outset, we submit that this complaint is a deliberate and malicious attempt by Bharti Airtel to defame RJIL’s consumer-friendly tariffs in order to protect its narrow interests,” Reliance Jio said in the letter dated April 6, 2023.

Jio rebutted the charges, saying it is clear that all the unsubstantiated claims of predation, a non-level playing field, and non-compliance with TTOs and NTOs are just woven around this singular theme, and “this complaint should be dismissed simply on the ground of being a frivolous attempt to protect its own interests.”

“A close reading of the complaint letter would clearly establish that Airtel’s sole grouse is that JioFiber is offering reasonable tariffs to customers,” Jio said in the letter seen by PTI.

JioFiber Backup Tariff is an earnest attempt by RJIL to connect all consumers to fibre optics technology in order to deliver best-in-class connectivity services, it wrote.

“We further submit that the JioFiber Backup plan is a 10 Mbps FTTX plan at a monthly rental of Rs 198 (plus taxes). This plan is available only on five months advance rental at one go. Further, the subscribers have the option to add add-on packs of Rs 100 or Rs 200 per month provided by Jio Platforms Ltd. in order to get access to up to 14 OTT apps along with Jio’s OTT apps provided by JPL,” Jio said.

So, it is evident that RJIL’s product offering is limited to connectivity services and does not include subscriptions to OTT applications or any broadcasting services, it contended.

With the subscription of add-on packs, JPL provides access to these apps through an OTT set-top box.

“JPL, as an aggregator, also provides a user interface in the form of another OTT app known as JioTV Plus, which collates all the OTT channels and content available to a subscriber under his JioFiber subscription and on other free video sharing apps like YouTube and makes the same available together,” it informed.

The customers can access these channels through the JioTV Plus app, which opens the channel in the OTT app.

These OTT apps include those by major broadcasters in India like Disney+Hotstar, Zee5, Sony Liv, Voot Select, and Sun Nxt, among others, as well as digital feeds of certain TV channels.

According to Jio, all these broadcasters apps provide access to their live channels on their OTT apps through the internet. By virtue of the customer’s subscription to OTT apps along with JioFiber services, they also get access to these channels on OTT apps as well, “which is in line with current market practise, even being followed by Airtel.”

A case in point is that Airtel also offers apps like Disney+Hotstar, Sony Liv, Lionsgate, HoiChoi, and others with its fibre plans, Jio argued.

In respect of access to channels on OTT apps, Jio said that the provision of TV channels on OTT applications is a permissible practise.

“It is evident from the above detail that JPL offers access to TV channels only as an aggregator through an OTT application and not otherwise as alleged by Airtel, and therefore Airtel’s complaint has no basis,” Jio said.

Jio said that Airtel has as much as admitted in its letter that bundling OTT applications with fiber or broadband is a common market practise.

“As stated earlier, Airtel also offers subscriptions to various OTT applications. Thus, the comparison of the same with DTH is not relevant,” Jio said.

TRAI and the Department of Telecommunications, it noted, have opted to not regulate the OTT applications, therefore claims of predation and a non-level playing field are irrelevant “as there cannot be a level playing field between regulated and non-regulated services.”

Jio’s letter, which gives a point-by-point rebuttal to the concerns raised in Airtel’s complaint, concluded by saying “Airtel’s complaint should be summarily dismissed.” PTI

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