The Competition Commission of India (CCI) is investigating allegations that India’s three largest operators colluded to block newcomer Reliance Jio’s access to Points of Interconnection (PoI).
Jio filed a complaint to the CCI in November 2016 that accused its rivals of “abuse of dominance and cartelisation”, claiming that the coordinated efforts of the Big Three to deny it access to PoI’s led to a call failure rate on its network of more than 75%. This, Jio alleges, amounted to an attempt to sabotage its entry into the market.
Following Jio’s complaint, regulator TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) suggested that the Department of Telecommmunications (DoT) fine the operators in question for the alleged transgression. However, the DoT responded that the accusations would need to be investigated further before grounds for penalties could be established, which has prompted the CCI’s investigation.
Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone India have all denied Jio’s allegations, with Bharti in fact lodging a complaint with the CCI about Jio’s “predatory” pricing. The commission has not reached a verdict on the issue.
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) will also be investigated by the CCI over Jio’s accusation that it safeguarded the interests of the Big Three operators by stymieing Jio’s entry to the Indian market. Jio is a member of the association.
COAI director general Rajan Mathews hit back, saying that both the association and its members “will be fully vindicated in the matter, and the truth will prevail. COAI always has and will continue to work with all its members and the government toward a facilitative policy and regulatory ecosystem for a stable, long-term, predictable policy and regulatory ecosystem that facilitates affordability, growth, innovation and investments”.
Jio’s September 2016 launch kicked off a price war in India, as it stoked competition by offering data and voice for free through a series of promotions. The upset has triggered major consolidation, with Vodafone and Idea signing a merger deal to create a new market leader in order to shore up their position in the fiercely competitive market.