“Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident.”
The passage above is one of the most famous in Sherlock Holmes literature. It comes from Silver Blaze in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Without giving the plot away (it is well worth reading, take my word for it), here is the context: a champion racehorse has disappeared and the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes has been called in to investigate. He checks the stable and then points out the one fact that intrigues: that the dog who was supposed to be protecting the horse did nothing when it was taken away.
No, this is not a story about Sherlock Holmes (although our edit mentor has bestowed that name on me, to my eternal embarrassment). You read the headline right – this is a story about Reliance Jio’s Summer Surprise and its surprising end. And the manner in which the TRAI acted in the whole episode.
Let’s throw our minds back to the beginning, shall we? The launch of Reliance Jio’s on September 5 caused a lot of excitement all across India. And with good reason – the telecom operator was offering close to four months of free services until December 31, 2016. It then extended the free offer for another three months from December 31, 2016, to March 31, 2017, under the Jio Happy New Year Offer.
During the free offer between September 5 and December 31, 2016, Jio ran into a few problems. Firstly Airtel, Vodafone and Idea (AVoId) alleged that by providing calls for free, Jio was pricing its tariff below the 14 paise/min termination charge which is supposed to be the base tariff. By giving away calls for free, Jio was pricing calls below the base tariff which were anti-competitive. Secondly, AVoId also alleged that Jio’s free offer was extending from September 5, 2016, to December 31, 2016, which meant it was greater than 90 days and TRAI regulations call for any promotional offer to be shorter than 90 days. Subsequently, TRAI did send a notice to Jio asking it why its free offer should not have ended by December 3 or so. In a December 7 communication to TRAI, Jio had informed the regulator that another promotional offer would be available to new consumers from December 4, for three months, and consumers availing earlier promotional offers would be migrated to the new offer as well. The December 4 offer was nothing else but the Happy New Year offer.
The Jio Happy New Year Offer ruffled a lot of feathers in the telecom industry. By extending the free offer from December 31, 2016, to March 31, 2017, Jio was practically offering close to seven months of free services. AVoId, which are the top telecom operators in India had challenged Jio’s Happy New Year Offer in the courts and TDSAT. But court proceedings take a lot of time. The dispute between telecom operators and DoT regarding what encompasses the definition of AGR has been pending with various high courts for months now.
TDSAT, which is exclusively set up for telecom, asked TRAI to have a look at Jio’s Happy New Year offer to determine its legal validity. TRAI, in turn, had asked the Attorney General’s view on Jio’s Happy New Year offer and also asked Jio to prove how the Happy New Year offer was different from the Jio Welcome Offer. The Attorney General gave a green light to Jio’s Happy New Year offer and Jio in its reply to TRAI said that the Happy New Year offer reduced the FUP limit from 4GB/day to 1GB/day and also has an option for people to recharge with data packs in case they cross the FUP limit.
TRAI then reiterated its stance to TDSAT that it found Jio’s Happy New Year fully compliant with regulations. All of this took so much time that by the time TRAI had come to a decision, Jio’s Happy New Year offer had almost come to an end. By the time the case against Jio’s Welcome Offer could move forward, the offer itself had ended and similarly by the time the case against Jio’s Happy New Year Offer could have moved forward, the offer itself again had ended.
One must remember that both the Jio Welcome Offer and Jio Happy New Year offer stretched for more than 90 days, yet TRAI was not able to come to a firm decision for both these offers. By the time the Jio Happy New Year offer had come to an end, it was widely believed that Jio would start charging for its services but as expected in many quarters, Jio once again extended the free window by 15 days to April 15 and unveiled a Jio Summer Surprise Offer whereby doing a recharge of Rs 99 for Prime membership and the 303 plan would give free services until July.
Do note that none of the competing telecom operators had complained against the Summer Surprise Offer. Also, compared to the Jio Welcome Offer and the Jio Happy New Year Offer, the Jio Summer Surprise Offer was far less ‘anti-competitive’:
- Unlike the Jio Welcome Offer and the Happy New Year Offer, the Jio Summer Surprise Offer extended the free window by just 15 days.
- The Jio Summer Surprise offer made the 303 recharge mandatory for people to be able to continue with the service.
Apart from unveiling the Jio Summer Surprise Offer, Jio also revealed an interesting statistic. A full 72 million subscribers had signed up for Prime membership. This meant that a whopping 75 percent of Jio’s subscriber base had paid up at least Rs 99. All Jio needed to do now was to convince people who had paid only Rs 99 or Rs 99+149 to pay for the 303 plan and to convince the remaining to pay Rs 99 + 303.
After TRAI’s lax attitude towards Jio’s Welcome Offer and Happy New Year, no one had expected TRAI to intervene in the case of Jio’s Summer Surprise Offer and indeed for the first few days since the announcement was made (on March 31), TRAI was relatively quiet about the Summer Surprise Offer. But on the night of April 6, TRAI, out of the blue, decided that Jio’s Summer Surprise Offer should be ended. Jio also agreed to TRAI’s ruling, saying that it would end the offer as soon as ‘operationally possible’ in the days to come. Keep in mind that the offer was supposed to come to an end by April 15, i.e. within nine days of TRAI’s April 6 ruling. At the time of writing, the 303 recharges are still being honored.
Interestingly, Jio had made the Rs 99+303 recharge mandatory almost exactly 24 hours before TRAI deemed the Jio Summer Surprise Offer illegal. Nowhere during the press release on March 31 was it mentioned that the Rs 99+303 recharge would be mandatory for new SIMs.
Now, consider the points below:
- The Jio Welcome Offer and Jio Happy New Year Offer lasted for more than 90 days and were vigorously contested by rival telcos, yet TRAI was not able to reach a firm decision on both the offers despite their elongated timeline.
- The Jio Summer Surprise Offer is actually free for just 15 days and is not even contested by rival telcos. In fact, TRAI remains mum on it initially and then out of the blue deems it illegal on the night of April 6. So it just took six days or maybe even lesser for TRAI to come up with a decision on Jio Summer Surprise Offer. And yet it was not able to decide on the Jio Welcome Offer and Jio Happy New Year Offer over a span of 90 days.
- Jio made the Rs 99+303 recharge mandatory almost 24 hours prior to TRAI’s ruling. Also, Jio said that it would try and implement TRAI’s ruling ‘as soon as’ possible in the days to come even though only nine days were remaining for the free/prime window to end anyway. If nothing else, the TRAI ruling made many people who were sitting on the fence regarding Jio, make the jump and recharge.
Curious, isn’t it?
Almost as curious as the incident of the dog in the night-time.
No, I am not alleging anything in this article. Both RIL and TRAI are highly respected organizations but the way in which the various events have unfolded surely raise some questions and provoke thinking. Perhaps we need a Sherlock Holmes here (no, no matter what our Edit Mentor calls me, I am not a detective).