Telco war: Jio slams COAI, threatens action on defamatory remarks
New Delhi: Billionaire Mukesh Ambanis Reliance Jio launched a scathing attack on telecom industry association COAI, saying the body has become a mouthpiece of incumbents like Airtel and is issuing “defamatory” and “malicious” statements on Trai favouring it. COAI (of which Jio is one of the members) issued a “motivated” press statement earlier this week alleging that the regulator Trai was favouring the new operator, Jio said in a release, adding that such remarks were meant to “devalue the esteem, regard and confidence enjoyed by Jio” and cause injury to its reputation. Accusing industry body COAI of allegedly playing into the hands of large operators and acting as their “mouthpiece”, Jio warned that it “reserves its rights to initiate criminal and civil defamation proceedings, including damages, against both COAI and Incumbent Dominant Operators (IDOs)”. Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) was not immediately available for comments, despite several attempts. In a strongly-worded letter to COAI yesterday, Jio said that the press release issued by the industry body on February 20, 2018 claiming that the regulators orders put all but one operator at a serious disadvantage was “intentionally, wrongfully and maliciously made to induce disparaging and inimical opinions against Reliance Jio”. The statement of COAI, “warrants criminal and civil action for defamation”, Jio said, demanding a public apology from COAI and its Director General Rajan Mathews within 48 hours. In the seven page letter, Reliance Jio (RJIL) offered a point-by-point rebuttal to charges levelled by COAI, and said that the industrys body contention that order was strengthening the ambitions of “one particular operator” was malicious and false. “COAI, as it is accustomed, has equated yet another telecom reform benefitting the consumer as only benefitting RJIL,” Jio alleged. Jio also alleged that the COAI has “reduced to becoming instrument and mouthpiece of Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea”, and termed these operators as Incumbent Dominant Operators. “The Press Release is motivated by the aim of devaluing the esteem, regard and confidence enjoyed by RJIL, thus causing injury to RJILs repute among the public and in the market,” Jio alleged. The press release merely advances the interests of IDOs while prejudicing the interests of the industry at large, including the consumers, Jio claimed. Jio – which is also a member of COAI – further claimed it was kept in the dark about the release issued by the trade body. “It appears that the IDOs amongst themselves sat together, conspired and deliberated on the matter and instigated the COAI to issue the Press Release with malicious intent to cause harm to the reputation of RJIL,” Jio claimed. The full-blown war of words comes just days after cellular operators under the aegis of COAI alleged that Trais regulations, including its rules and definition of predatory pricing, had distorted the market. COAI had also alleged that the orders appeared “to be strengthening the ambitions of one particular operator with deep pockets and monopolistic designs at the expense of other operators” although it did not name Reliance Jio which has hit the incumbent operators hard by its aggressive pricing of mobile services, especially data tariffs. The association had also stated that majority of its members agreed with the assessment of Trais regulations, except Reliance Jio which had a divergent view on the matter.