NEW DELHI: Bharti Airtel has accused Reliance Jio of trying to mislead authorities for the third time in two months with an aim of influencing policy in its favour to bring down the interconnect usage charge (IUC) through a “sinister” “misinformation” campaign.
Airtel on Tuesday alleged that Jio was exaggerating and distorting figures of India’s older telecom operators, making false claims to mislead authorities and public at large to turn policy in its favour, and urged the telecom regulator not to be “swayed by such falsehoods”, escalating a war of words of strong accusations and counter accusations between the two parties on the contentious issue of IUC, or mobile termination charge.
“This is nothing but a part of RJio’s sinister campaign aimed at misleading the authorities and public-at-large during the ongoing IUC consultation process,” Airtel said in a letter to Trai chairman RS Sharma, dated September 12. “Their whole objective is to bring down the IUC through the misinformation campaign, with RJio being the sole beneficiary of the lower IUC.”
ET has seen a copy of the letter.
IUC is a fee that a mobile service provider pays another to link a call to the latter’s network. The fee is currently at 14 paise per minute, which Jio wants scrapped but incumbents want to be doubled to cover their carriage costs.
Airtel’s letter came in a rebuttal to a letter dated September 11 from Jio to the regulator, alleging that Airtel was creating a “smokescreen to hide its ill-gotten profits and to support its false pretence of loss under the existing IUC regime”. Jio had asked Trai to take action against Airtel for making malicious and false representations against Jio’s analysis on Airtel’s alleged excess IUC recovery in the past five years, and influencing the ongoing consultation process on the fee in its favour.
In its response, Airtel said Tuesday, “We believe that RJio’s allegations are not only baseless but are part of a campaign based on falsehoods and aimed at misleading the Authorities to create policy bias in its favour… We urge the authority not to be swayed by such falsehoods.”
The market leader alleged that this was the third time in last two months that Reliance Jio had made such false claims.
Other examples cited by Airtel in its letter to Trai were when Jio had alleged that Airtel, Idea and Vodafone had not infused enough equity into their operations and have taken on huge debt instead. Another was Jio’s allegations that incumbents had benefitted by almost Rs 1 lakh crore in last five years due to non-implementation of the Trai affidavit to the Supreme Court about moving to a bill & keep (B&K) regime by 2014, which would have scrapped the IUC.
The Sunil-Mittal owned company had rebutted all claims of the new entrant in a letter to Trai dated September 6, saying that rather than gains on IUC, the company had made losses of Rs 6,800 crore in the last five years.
On Tuesday, Airtel expressed surprise at Jio’s latest attempt to spread misinformation. It said Jio had mischievously used a completely flawed methodology by including gross minutes of usage (MoUs) instead of net MoUs and on-net incoming MoUs in their calculation for IUC, which it said was a deliberate, elementary error with a view to change perception of the authority.
“We are amused to see that Reliance Jio has deliberately ignored the fact that IUC is an inter-operator settlement and no operator pays IUC for the on-net calls, as these are intra network calls,” Airtel said in its letter. “It is pertinent to note that RJio has been propagating these misleading numbers since Trai’s IUC workshop held on 18 July 2017, and (they) are now struggling to justify those inflated figures.”