After warring with peers, Mukesh Ambani’s Jio is now taking on India’s telecom lobby group

Getting ready for the battle.
Getting ready for the battle.
Image: AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade
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Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio is already engaged in a battle with fellow telecom firms, and now the newcomer has also decided to take on the country’s telecom lobby group, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI). The industry body was established in 1995 and has members such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, Idea, and Jio, among other private mobile operators.

On Sept. 23, Jio wrote to the COAI asking it to revamp its existing regulations. “COAI regulations are overwhelmingly biased and lopsided and have been framed to subserve the vested interests of the three incumbent dominant operators, namely, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, and Idea,” it said in the letter. Jio said a three-member panel of retired supreme court judges should be appointed for the overhaul of regulations.

In its response on Sept. 26, the COAI called Jio a “back-door operator,” adding that Ambani’s suggestion that the rules are skewed 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.”

Now, Jio wants Rajan S Mathews, director general of the COAI, to apologise.

“Reliance Jio has already put Rajan S Mathews on notice demanding apology for issuing the press statement, with copy to COAI, seeking appropriate action against Mathews, and should they not act upon it, Jio will pursue legal recourse with full vigour,” Ambani’s firm said in a statement on Sept. 28.

But COAI’s beef with Jio isn’t entirely new. Even before Jio’s official launch in September, the COAI had written to prime minister Narendra Modi’s office that Ambani is providing free voice and data services to some three million users under the garb of a pre-launch trial. In the process, it said, Jio is “using spectrum allocated for commercial use on revenue share principle (designed to provide revenue to the government), yet statedly yielding no revenue and consequently no share to the government.” In response, Jio had threatened to sue COAI.

This back and forth is similar to what Jio engaged in with other telecom operators over the availability of interconnect points that help in the smooth transfer of voice calls among networks.

Since Ambani launched his service on Sept. 05, India’s $50-billion telecom industry has been rattled. There’s been name-calling, fare-slashing, and a mad rush by firms to retain existing consumers. Jio offers super-fast internet at perhaps the world’s cheapest rates, and a lifetime of free voice calls.