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Broadcasters cry foul over Trai’s diktat on freezing cable TV tariffs

21-January-2004
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Broadcasters cry foul over Trai’s diktat on freezing cable TV tariffs

The television broadcasting industry, which had remained outside the purview of regulation so far, is upset over the diktat issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on freezing the monthly tariffs, as charged by broadcasters, large cable networks and last-mile operators. At the board meeting of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) here on Tuesday, top officials of TV channels finalised a letter to Trai chairman Pradip Baijal, underscoring their concerns.

Trai issued the order without consulting the broadcasting industry “and hence this order has created utter confusion in the industry,” according to the broadcasters’ letter. “Further, Trai’s notification included non-CAS areas which were free of these problems so far,” it added.

According to a source, pay channels are the ones which are complaining the most as their business model is being affected. With a regulator coming into the picture, not only have the cable rates been frozen till further orders, but an advertising cap may also be introduced soon. So far, only cable networks were governed by laws, while broadcasters were allowed to go scot-free. But, things changed when Trai was given the additional responsibility of regulating the broadcasting sector, following the mess related to the conditional access system (CAS).

Seeking a meeting with Mr Baijal, IBF said, “We should be given a fair chance to present our views and explain the ground realities of the industry before the notification is enforced.”

Some pay broadcasters are also seeking legal opinion on various issues including freezing of rates by Trai. While individual broadcasters may choose to move court, IBF as a collective body has decided not to take any legal action.

Broadcasters, it is learnt, are also concerned that telecom companies may want to take over the broadcasting sector, following broadcasting and cable services being handed over to Trai.

In an order issued last week, Trai ensured that cable TV consumer’s monthly cable TV bill did not go up any further, CAS or no CAS. In effect, the payout (consumers to cable operators; cable operators to multi-system operators; and MSOs to broadcasters) amount throughout the country would prevail as on December 26, 2003.

Since the Delhi High Court had, on December 26, directed that CAS must continue for three months on a trial basis, the same date has been taken for specifying the ceiling rates. These rates would be applicable till further Trai orders.

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