Airtel alleges violation of broadcast content policy; Jio negates charges

Jio has dubbed charges made by Airtel as "deliberate malicious attempt to defame" Reliance Jio Infocomm's (RJIL) consumer-friendly tariffs to protect "narrow interests"

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Airtel alleges violation of broadcast content policy; Jio negates charges

Reliance Jio has slammed Bharti Airtel, after the latter filed a complaint with the telecom regulator over live TV channels offerings by JioFiber, saying the rival company's sole grouse is its reasonable tariffs.

Jio dubbed charges made by Airtel as "deliberate malicious attempt to defame" Reliance Jio Infocomm’s (RJIL) consumer-friendly tariffs to protect "narrow interests".

Jio, in a letter to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), said, "Airtel should be warned against making such frivolous complaints in future".

The offensive came after Bharti Airtel told regulator TRAI that broadcasters are violating the downlinking policy by providing broadcast content to unregistered digital distribution platforms, as per a report by NewsDrum.

Airtel's submission to the watchdog appears to be in reference to Jio TV showing IPL 2023 matches.

As per the report, Bharti Airtel said the delivery of the same broadcast on broadband through an app on large screen has created an anti-competitive environment and a non-level playing field for the regulated Distribution Platforms (DPOs).

According to Bharti Airtel, TRAI had introduced the principle to ensure broadcasters provide content to all distribution platforms on a non-discriminatory basis.

"However, it becomes inapplicable in cases where the same broadcast content (as shown on registered distribution platforms) is being carried over broadband as a medium," it said.

The company has also raised the issue of content being differently priced across two platforms like DTH and wireline or wireless broadband.

Jio referred to the TRAI letter dated March 31, 2023 seeking comments on Airtel's complaint on alleged predatory offers of live TV channels with broadband plans by RJIL.

"At the outset, we submit that this complaint is a deliberate malicious attempt by Bharti Airtel to defame RJIL's consumer-friendly tariffs in order to protect its narrow interests," Reliance Jio said in the letter dated April 6, 2023.

Jio rebutted the charges saying it is clear that all the unsubstantiated claims of predation, non-level playing field, non-compliance with TTO's and NTO are just woven around this singular theme and "this complaint should be dismissed simply on the ground of being frivolous attempt to protect its own interests".

"A close reading of the complaint letter would clearly establish that Airtel's sole grouse is that JioFiber is offering reasonable tariffs to customers," Jio said in the letter seen by PTI.

The JioFiber Backup tariff is an earnest attempt by RJIL (Reliance Jio) to connect all consumers to fiber optics technology in order to deliver best in class connectivity services, it wrote.

"We further submit that the JioFiber Backup plan is a 10 Mbps FTTX plan at monthly rental of Rs 198 (plus taxes). This plan is available only on five months advance rental at one go. Further, the subscribers have the option to add add-on packs of Rs 100 or Rs 200 per month provided by Jio Platforms Limited (JPL) in order to get access to up to 14 OTT apps along with Jio's OTT apps provided by JPL," Jio said.

So, it is evident that RJIL's product offering is limited to connectivity services and it does not include subscription to OTT applications or any broadcasting services, it stated. It added that with the subscription of add-on packs, JPL provides access to these apps through an OTT set top box.

"JPL, as an aggregator, also provides a user interface in the form of another OTT app known as JioTV plus, which collates all the OTT channels/content available to a subscriber under his JioFiber subscription and on other free video sharing apps like YouTube and makes the same available together," it informed.

The customers can access these channels through the JioTV Plus app, which opens the channel in the OTT app. These OTT apps include apps by major broadcasters in India like Disney+ Hotstar, Zee5, Sony Liv, Voot Select, Sun Nxt among others, as well as digital feeds of certain TV channels.

According to Jio, all these broadcaster's apps provide access to their live channels on their OTT apps through the internet. By virtue of the customer's subscription to OTT apps along with JioFiber services, they also get access to these channels on OTT apps as well "which is in line with current market practice even being followed by Airtel".

A case in point is that Airtel also offers apps like Disney+Hotstar, Sony Liv, Lionsgate, HoiChoi and others with its fiber plans, Jio argued. In respect of access to channels on OTT apps, Jio said that the provision of TV channels on OTT application is a permissible practice.

"It is evident from the above detail that JPL offers access to TV channels only as an aggregator through OTT application and not otherwise as alleged by Airtel and therefore Airtel's complaint has no basis," Jio said.

Jio said that Airtel has as much as admitted in its letter that the bundling of OTT applications with fiber/broadband is a common market practice.

"As stated earlier, Airtel also offers subscriptions to various OTT applications. Thus, the comparison of the same with DTH is not relevant,” Jio said.

TRAI and DoT, it noted, have opted to not regulate the OTT applications, therefore claims of predation and non-level playing field are irrelevant "as there cannot be a level playing field between regulated and non-regulated services".

Jio concluded by urging for Airtel's complaint to be “summarily dismissed".

Jio platforms DTH telecom regulator TRAI JioTV Downlinking OTT Uplinking Airtel Jio Bharti Airtel