Jio accuses Airtel, Vodafone Idea of fanning farmers’ ire against it

The latest telecom war kicked off after some pictures surfaced, showing Airtel banners among agitating farmers.
According to the Jio camp, it was a giveaway that farmers were being enticed to port their phone numbers.
Aneesh Phadnis and Megha Manchanda report.

The farmers’ agitation has spilled over from state borders to telecom networks, quite literally.

In an unusual turn of events, telecom rivals are at war over protesting farmers switching loyalties from one service provider to another.

Mukesh Ambani-promoted Reliance Jio, which is the largest telco with 404 million subscribers, approached the regulator alleging that rivals Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea (VI) were taking away its users under the guise of farmer support.

Airtel is now a distant second with 326 million mobile users while the financially stressed Vodafone Idea is left with 295 million as of September data of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).

While protesting against the farm bill, which is perceived by some sections as beneficial to big industry groups, farmers latched on to the boycott theme saying they wouldn’t use Reliance Jio anymore.

Without losing any time, Jio wrote to Trai stating that the two incumbents — Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea — were running an ‘unethical’ and ‘anti-competitive’ mobile number portability campaign to capitalise on the ongoing farmer protest.

Airtel and VI, on their part, have said there’s no truth to the allegations.

Jio argued that the two firms were directly and indirectly involved in supporting and furthering the insinuations and false rumours of Reliance Jio being an undue beneficiary of the farm bill.

‘Airtel and VI are pursuing a “vicious” and “divisive” campaign through its employees, agents and retailers. In order to read meagre gains in port-in numbers these service providers are intentionally defaming Reliance Jio by depicting it as against the farmers and projecting themselves as farmer friendly while at the same time intentionally fanning the anti-government protests,’ Jio said in the letter.

The actions by rival companies are in violation of principles of tariff advertisement and Trai orders, Jio added.

Calling it ‘outrageous’, Airtel Chief Regulatory Officer Rahul Vatts in a submission to Trai, said, ‘Airtel has operated in the telecom industry for 25 years. During this period, we have competed hard in the market place and strived to serve our customers with excellence. At the same time we take great pride in treating our competitors and partners with respect.’

Airtel took the opportunity to say that despite provocation by any rival ‘who will go to any length to make baseless allegations or adopt bullying tactics, we have always conducted our business with character and transparency’.

Vodafone Idea too called the allegations ‘baseless’, while pointing out that it believes in doing business with ethics.

‘We strongly refute such irresponsible comments on us,’ the telco said.

The latest telecom war kicked off after some pictures surfaced, showing Airtel banners among agitating farmers.

According to the Jio camp, it was a giveaway that farmers were being enticed to port their phone numbers.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

Source: Read Full Article