The great telecom war: Jio charges COAI with bias

Mumbai:Reliance Jio onSunday said the regulations of Cellular Operators' Association of India (COAI) are overwhelmingly biased and lopsided, framed to subserve the vested interests of the three incumbent dominant operators -- Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea. It, accordingly, sought their complete overhaul. The association countered, saying it was an internal matter, but not before calling Jio a 'back door' operator.

In a letter to COAI Chairman Gopal Vittal and Director General Rajan S. Mathews, Jio said incumbent players command 68 per cent of the total votes in the association and that quorum in any executive council meeting is based on voting power, rather than number of members.

"It is imminently clear from the above that the entire decision making power and authority rests only with the incumbent dominant operators. The other core members have been reduced to a nullity and their presence or not will always be inconsequential," the letter said.

These regulations, the letter said, make the regulations abysmally fall foul of competition law, especially by extending absolute control on decisions to incumbent dominant operators.

In a statement later, the association said the issues raised by one of its members is an internal matter, also adding Jio's conduct is not becoming of a member when appropriate forums are available within the association.

The Jio letter said that the decision-making process of the association is replete with instances of sending out communications in utter disregard to fairness, accountability and transparency, even as issues are taken up towards which there is no mandate or power vested in its charter.

Among various examples, the company said the association conveyed its position to the authorities on the issue of interconnection between the networks of Reliance Jio and the incumbent players -- without seeking the views of Reliance Jio.

"As a matter of fact, on a specific occasion, the association had the audacity to send a mail (containing a draft letter purportedly supposed to be sent to the Government) to Reliance Jio to seek its views whereas the letter had already been sent to the Government even before the mail was sent to Reliance Jio."

The letter said as a public body, the association must work for the benefit of all of its members and the consumers, with legally- and morally-sound policies and representation, while encouraging fair competition in the market.

"In the light of the above, it is high time that COAI Regulations are amended to fall in line with (i) fundamental democratic principles namely, reasonableness, fairness, accountability and transparency, adequate representation to all members, etc., and (ii) to be compliant with all applicable laws, including principles of equity.

"Reliance Jio seeks a thorough overhaul and amendment of Cellular Operators' Association regulations and process by appointing a committee consisting of three retired Hon'ble Judges of the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India to make sure that both fall in line with fundamental democratic principles of reasonableness, fairness, accountability and transparency including with provisions for adequate measures to prevent any abuse in future."

In its rebuttal, the association said Jio's letter represents many misrepresentations, and misinterpretations of law, which will be suitably responded to after careful review and deliberation among members. It wondered why the company was raising the issues as something new.

"Despite repeated and grave provocations from Reliance Jio, COAI wishes to state that Reliance Jio, which entered the sector as a back door operator, was welcomed by COAI as a full member," it said.

"Reliance Jio is labelling the established and well performing operators who have served the cause of digital India for long years as incumbent dominant operators. This is slanderous, mischievous and suggests that the existing leading members are a cohort bent upon blocking entry of new operators on the basis of bald allegations," the association statement said.

"None of the half a dozen new operators who have entered in the last five years have ever accused Cellular Operators' Association of India or in fact labeled the leading operators as incumbent dominant operators. Despite repeated and grave provocations from Reliance Jio, COAI wishes to state that Reliance Jio which entered the sector as a back door operator was welcomed by COAI as a full member," the statement said.

"The members of COAI will review the letter submitted by Reliance Jio and do what they believe is in the best interest of the country, the customers and the Association. The association will continue to work for a stable, predictable regulatory environment which is conducive to the orderly growth of the sector for a connected and fully empowered Digital India."