Telecom regulator TRAI has questioned Reliance Jio over its decision to extend the free data and voice call offers from its earlier deadline of December 31 to March 31, 2017 and asked the telco why it should not be seen as violation of existing regulations requiring promotional offers to be limited to 90 days.
TRAI shot off the letter after the Mukesh Ambani-led firm announced free data and voice calls for existing and new customers under the 'Happy New Year offer', days before the 90-day inaugural welcome plan ended on December 3.
In the December 20 letter, the regulator, which is in the process of examining the new plan by Reliance Jio, also asked why the offer of free data under the promotional scheme should not be treated as "predatory".
When contacted, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd (RJIL) did not offer any comments on the issue.
Sources with direct knowledge of the development said the regulator in its letter had cited RJIL's consumer base growing to 63 million as on December 18 to state that the company will become a significant market player in the broadband space shortly, may be by December-end.
Stating that the preliminary analysis relies on factors like average subscriber additions per day and free data being offered, TRAI is learnt to have asked RJIL to clarify as to "why the offer of free data under the promotional offer should not be treated as predatory."
Another source said that in a meeting with TRAI, Jio has said that the latest Happy New Year offer is substantiatively different from the Jio Welcome Offer (that commenced on September 5) as in the initial offer it had provided 4GB of free data per day, and in the new offer the same was capped at 1GB under Fair Usage Policy.
Also, they contend, in the first offer there was no option of renewal or payment after the 4GB limit was exhausted, but in the new offer, one can recharge both data and the promised speed.
In terms of market dominance, Reliance Jio is six per cent of the installations in the country whereas the Competition Commission of India (CCI) norms specify 30 per cent threshold to trigger the 'misuse of market dominance' clause.
Sources said, TRAI has also asked Jio to give an estimated month-wise projection of the number of subscribers that are expected to be added till March 31, 2017.
Jio has been given five days to clarify on the issues raised by the regulator.
Jio first launched an inaugural free voice and data plan beginning September, and earlier this month extended the freebies till March 31, 2017.
On Friday, incumbent operator Bharti Airtel moved telecom dispute tribunal TDSAT against TRAI allowing Reliance Jio to continue free promotional offer beyond the stipulated 90 days, charging the regulator of being a "mute spectator" to violations.
In its 25-page petition before the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), India's largest private mobile services operator had asked the quasi-judicial body to direct TRAI to ensure that Jio does not provide its free voice and data plan beyond December 3.
TRAI said that Reliance Jio, through a letter on December 7, had informed it about another promotional offer - Happy New Year - that would be available to new consumers with effect from December 4, 2016 to March 3, 2017 and the benefits of which would be available till March 31, 2017.
Consumers availing the earlier promotional offers too would be migrated to the Happy New Year offer, TRAI has observed.
TRAI said that free voice calls, unlimited video calling, and free data, and free Jio apps among others, were offered without break under the various promotional offers by RJIL from September 5.
Therefore, TRAI said, preliminary examination of the new offer filed with it 'prima facie' reveals that except for minor change in the quantum of data being offered in the new offer, it seems to be an extension of the old promotional offer beyond 90 days.