With the tariff order dispute being heard by the Madras High Court almost on a day-to-day basis, the cracks within the direct-to-home (DTH) operators and the larger broadcast industry is becoming quite apparent. At the time of filing of this report, sources informed exchange4media that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is still arguing before the court in favour of the regulations. Following that, the All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF) and Videocon D2H will present their arguments. Rejoinders will follow soon after.
Interestingly, sources say that Videocon D2H is expected to support TRAI’s interconnect regulations. The move would have larger ramifications given the fact that Videocon D2H recently merged operations with Dish TV. “Videocon is now part of Dish so we can say both Dish and Videocon (are on the same page),” mentioned a source, monitoring the legal developments on a daily basis. Since Dish TV itself is a “division of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL)”, the position of Videocon D2H is likely to be representative of the entire faction of companies involved in the dispute.
On the other hand, Star India alongside Vijay TV has resolutely challenged the jurisdiction of TRAI and considered the regulations to be in violation of TRAI Act, 1997. Apart from the petition filed by Star before the Madras HC, Tata Sky has also upped the ante against the regulations by opting for legal recourse in the Delhi High Court. Sources told exchange4media that considering the stakes held by Star in Tata Sky, it is a no-brainer to contemplate on the position of the latter vis-a-vis the dispute. The other petitioner in the Delhi HC case, being presided over by chief justice Gita Mittal, is Airtel Digital TV.
In order to counter the Dish TV-Videocon D2H merger, there is talk of a similar merger between Tata Sky and Airtel Digital TV. Keeping this factor in mind, sources narrated that the two DTH operators can take coordinated steps to get the tariff order quashed. However, Videocon D2H’s arguments in the Madras HC may provide an alternate proposition from the distribution side which can benefit TRAI. The AIDCF has throughout backed the regulations and had earlier strongly come out in support of broadcasters publishing their reference interconnect offers (RIOs) after the dismissal of Star’s interim stay plea by Madras HC on April 28. However, the broadcast giant managed to get some relief from the Supreme Court by obtaining a stay on the regulations on May 8.
Though the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) has supported Star India and Vijay TV’s plea in court, the division among the broadcasters regarding the issue is fairly well documented. “Though this entity (IBF) would support the plea for stay, we are informed that many broadcasters, who are said to be under its wings, are now in favour of the impugned interconnect regulations and tariff order,” said a previous Madras HC order.