Stop TRAI(ng), please

Reliance Jio Tuesday yet again introduced another customer-friendly offer, ‘Dhan Dhana Dhan’, by sidestepping the regulator’s latest restriction. Earlier this week, TRAI had barred the Mukesh Ambani-owned company from going ahead with the ‘Summer Surprise’ offer as it said it did not gel with the regulatory framework in the country.

The company immediately declared that it will abide by the TRAI decision and claimed to withdraw the ‘Summer Surprise’ offer under which it had extended its free services for three more months. Earlier, TRAI had allowed Jio to continue with their Welcome and Happy New Year offers, which was basically an extension of the former with free voice calls and data.

Ever since its arrival in the market last year, Reliance Jio has been dominating the market both in voice and data. Its free voice and data service has revolutionised the mobile phone experience. There were literal scrambles in the markets to get free Jio SIMs. The free service catalysed a lot of changes in the market.

Other than increasing mobile phone density, it pushed up the sale of 4G handsets and drove the sales of e-commerce companies as, with free data available, people opted to surf more and do more online shopping. However, as soon as the company declared to end the free service, it triggered widespread disappointment and disbelief among users.

People long used to free voice and free data could not immediately reconcile with a life beyond free Jio. The company in six months could achieve what its rivals could not in two decades. Its customer base has crossed the 100 million figure in less than one year. It kept on extending its free service to expand and consolidate its customer base.

TRAI curbs do not seem to have dampened Jio strategy of doling out freebies to customers. Within a couple of days of the withdrawal of ‘Summer Surprise’, Jio came up with ‘Dhan Dhana Dhan’.

The new promotional has continued with all the benefits of ‘Summer Surprise’, including unlimited data, free SMS, roaming, voice calls and Jio apps subscription, for three months. Even as Jio customers have heaved a sigh of relief with the continuance of the free scheme, albeit under a different name, this has triggered massive uproar from rivals Airtel and Vodafone.

They have termed the latest scheme as a provocative disregard of the TRAI directive. An Airtel spokesperson said the latest scheme is essentially the old plan masquerading under a different name — old wine in new bottle.

Mobile telephony, when it was introduced in India in the mid 1990s, was out of bounds for the common man. It continued as a status symbol for many years as only the rich could afford it. However, with more private players coming in, there was competition in the market leading to moderation in tariffs.

As the number of participants increased, the tariff went on coming down. No private company does business without profit. If Reliance Jio could decide to offer free services to customers on a strategic plank, it must have done its homework on how to sustain its service in the face of completion.

After it launched free voice and data services, other telecom players brought their tariffs down. The customers were the end beneficiaries. Jio, to begin with, did not make its free services conditional. A user is free to decide how long he, she or it would stay with a scheme or service provider.

The user can switch from one service provider to another at will. There is no reason why the regulator should force a company to stick to higher tariffs just because incumbent players do not want to lower their rates. After all, no private company does business for charity.

Let the consumers decide which product or operator they would like to stay with. In a free and open market such as ours, any attempt to artificially check or push a scheme may not last long. In the latest case, TRAI seems to have overplayed its hand.

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