New Delhi: After India’s telecom regulator asked Reliance Jio to withdraw its ‘Summer Surprise’ free data offer, a change.org petition for affordable internet access has gathered close to 65,000 signatures.
Jio’s offer promised free internet data for three months for those who signed up with it. Yesterday, TRAI, the regulator, asked the Mukesh Ambani-owned company to withdraw that offer, saying it wasn’t legally compliant. This would have pleased Jio’s competitors but not the country’s consumers, who would now have no option but to fork out a higher rate for data.
Following TRAI’s order, Amit Bhawani, a Hyderabad-based techie started the Change.org petition, calling yesterday “a black day”.
“Today (April 7) is a black day for Digital India. The Indian consumers who with your support, once fought and won the battle for net neutrality; today are on the verge of losing out on affordable access to the internet,” Bhawani’s petition said.
To be sure, Jio’s free data offer was criticized by its competitors in an industry plagued with a rate war triggered by the Reliance Industries-owned firm, reported The Economic Times (ET). In addition, Jio’s entry also led to a sharp fall in government revenue from licence fees and spectrum usage charges, ET also said.
Those are not the concerns of the Change.org petitioner. Bhawani believes that what TRAI’s order means is more expensive data for the common man.
“Sir, TRAI, which is supposed to be a pro-consumer body disappointed me today; Instead of protecting the scheme that gave a chance to a common man to access Internet at a cost of less than Rs 5/GB, decided to shut the Jio Summer Surprise Offer and has set a precedence that will prevent the consumer from getting affordable data forever,” the petition said.
The petitioner stressed he wasn’t batting for any particular telecom company, just for affordable Internet access.
“This petition is in favor of any Telecom Operator that is offering affordable internet to the consumers. Ignoring the legal side I wish that TRAI & DOT (department of telecommunication) would work in favor of the consumers and help in supporting any initiatives that help them access the internet at affordable pricing,” the petition said.
Under Jio’s ‘Summer Surprise’ offer, announced March 31, all ‘Jio Prime’ members making their first recharge of Rs 303 (or more), by April 15, got three additional months of free voice and data services, in addition to access to other Jio apps. ‘Jio Prime’ membership, launched February 21, required a one-time fee of a mere Rs 99.
On its part, TRAI said Reliance Jio hadn’t filed the new tariff scheme with the regulator, which it is mandated to do within seven days of launching the scheme. It also said Jio’s scheme violated the regulatory framework.
“The new offer is a special benefit which is not falling into the regulatory framework,” the official said. ”
ET reported that earlier, experts cautioned that Jio’s ‘Summer Surprise’ offer, coming following two successive promotional offers that lasted almost seen months, will further bleed the industry amid falling revenue and rising capex requirements.
In the meanwhile DOT has already signalled a nearly 30 percent sequential slump in licence fees that telecom companies will pay the government for the March quarter, mainly due to promotional offers like Jio’s, ET said.