A division bench of the Madras High Court comprising of Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice M Sundar dismissed Star India’s plea seeking a stay on the implementation of the tariff order formulated by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on April 28. As a result, television broadcasters including Star India will have to publish the Reference Interconnection Offer (RIO) by May 2. The RIO is a document which is supposed to clearly mention the terms and conditions on the basis of which a service provider may seek interconnections with another.
However, the provisions of the RIO shall come into force only after four months. “TRAI has submitted before the court that agreements under the new regime will be enforced from September 1, 2017,” a source told exchange4media. Star India is said to be discussing the legal options at its disposal and will soon decide whether to challenge the Madras HC’s order on its stay plea. The court also fixed the next date of hearing concerning the main petition challenging the constitutionality of Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services (Eighth) (Addressable Systems) Tariff Order, 2017 on June 12.
“Clause 3 and other consequential subjects shall be subject to the outcome of the main writ petition,” the source added. The decision of the court came after the case was hit by the recusal of three judges, namely, Justice S Nagamuthu, Justice Anita Sumanth and Justice S Manikumar. It is the petitioner’s contention that TRAI has overstepped its jurisdiction by pricing content and its actions are in violation of the TRAI Act, 1997. The tariff order prevents broadcasters from offering a discount of more than 15% on a bouquet of pay channels. Moreover, all pay channels have to be made available on an a-la-carte basis and cannot be offered as part of a bouquet by broadcasters or distributions if its monthly MRP is above Rs 19.
On March 3, the Supreme Court permitted TRAI to notify the draft tariff regulations. Following their formal notification on the same day, TRAI amended the tariff order slightly on March 30 to accommodate the concerns of the stakeholders in relation to ambiguities surrounding Clause 3. Originally, Clause 3 pertaining to the nature and declaration of the monthly MRP of pay channels was to be enacted thirty days after the tariff order’s publication in the Gazette of India. The tariff order was eventually published in the Gazette of India on April 3 with broadcasters being given 60 days of time from March 30 to publish their respective RIOs.