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Indian Billionaires Spar as Jio Resumes Offer in `New Bottle'

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 13-04-2017 Siddharth Philip
Reliance Jio introduces plan similar to one halted by telecom regulator © Reuters/Shailesh Andrade Reliance Jio introduces plan similar to one halted by telecom regulator

(Bloomberg) -- Bharti Airtel Ltd., India’s biggest mobile-phone service provider, has asked the telecom regulator to intervene after the country’s newest operator started an offer to lure customers that was similar to a previous program stopped by authorities.

Airtel, controlled by billionaire Sunil Bharti Mittal, said that Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd.’s Dhan Dhana Dhan plan -- which loosely translates to money, money, money in Hindi -- violates the spirit of the regulator’s directive and "essentially continues with a similar plan now masquerading under a different name."

“This is a classic example of old wine in a new bottle,” Airtel’s spokesman said in a response to a text message. “The industry is in a very weak position and continues to bleed. With a weakened financial position companies will find it difficult to raise the capital to invest and roll out broadband networks.”

The latest battle showcases the struggle to keep customers in the world’s second-largest mobile phone market where intense competition has prompted Vodafone Group Plc to combine its Indian unit with Idea Cellular Ltd. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on Thursday “advised” billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Jio to stop a plan where customers who signed up for its unlimited Prime service at 303 rupees ($4.7) a month would get the first three months free. Five days later Jio started a program offering 90 days of service to clients for an additional 6 rupees.



“Essentially, the offer seems broadly similar,” to the one the regulator halted, Viju George, an analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Indian unit, wrote in a report on Wednesday. “If criteria for the determination of unfair pricing aggression are not identified or enforced, RJio could probably continue to get away even as it desists from free offers in the future.”

Airtel said that it hopes the regulator will act against the offer. R.S. Sharma, chairman of the regulator did not answer four calls to his mobile phone and didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. Jio didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

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Jio, which has more than 72 million Prime subscribers, stormed into India’s crowded mobile operator market by offering free services for a period that was extended until March 31. Rival operators were forced to slash prices to match Jio, in order to retain subscribers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Siddharth Philip in Mumbai at sphilip3@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Dave McCombs at dmccombs@bloomberg.net, Arijit Ghosh, Candice Zachariahs

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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