As closing submissions are made before the Madras High Court by numerous parties involved in the tariff dispute between broadcasters and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the central government’s regulator is sounding confident about its timely implementation. The inside word is that TRAI is preparing to rollout its tariff order as planned from April 3.
Refuting the possibility of an adverse order from the Madras HC as a “hypothetical” situation at this stage, exchange4media has learnt from TRAI that the “first activity will be implemented” on April 3. The absence of any unwanted directive from the Madras HC so far has led TRAI to assert that “the regulation (issued by it) is in force” at the moment.
“Whatever TRAI has done, it is confident about it as it is in accordance with the TRAI Act,” said a TRAI member closely monitoring the developments. TRAI has firmly stood by the claim that it is well within its powers to fix tariff for broadcast services. Elaborating on the same, the regulator’s tariff order noted, “The regulations, orders and directions to regulate tariff, interconnection and quality of service of “broadcasting services” sector are in place since 2004 and broadcasters are complying with the provisions contained therein.”
After receiving a go-ahead from the Supreme Court, TRAI notified the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services (Eighth) (Addressable Systems) Tariff Order, 2017 on March 3. In the amended order, TRAI took a step back as far as the genre-wise price caps were concerned. The draft tariff order released in October last year had prescribed a price ceiling for the seven genres listed.
As per the same, sports channels could sell at a maximum retail price of Rs 19 whereas devotional channels were priced the lowest with an MRP of Rs 3. GECs and movie channels could not cost more than Rs 12 and Rs 10, respectively. While TRAI did away with the genre-wise restrictions later, it did ensure that no pay channel forming part of a bouquet was priced beyond Rs 19.
“Keeping in view these realities (challenges arising out of bundling of channels) and to protect the interests of the subscribers, the Authority has prescribed a ceiling of Rs 19/- on the MRP of the pay channels which can be provided as part of a bouquet,” said the amended tariff order.
Besides that the regulator also capped the maximum discount which broadcasters could offer on a bouquet of pay channels at 15%. In its petition before the Madras High Court, Star India and Vijay TV have contended that TRAI has overstepped its jurisdiction by pricing content through its tariff order. Appearing on behalf of broadcasters before the Madras HC, former Finance Minister P Chidambaram is said to have described TRAI’s actions as a violation of the Copyright Act.