The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) concluded its arguments in the tariff order dispute before the Madras High Court on Thursday. After the submissions of both P Wilson and Saket Singh, advocates on behalf of TRAI, the division bench led by Chief Justice Indira Banerjee decided to hear the matter next on July 17. Since the bench had to urgently address certain admission-related matters, the arguments of Videocon D2H and All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF) will now be given a hearing on Monday. The following two days i.e. July 18 and 19 have been earmarked for rejoinders.
Presenting his case before the Madras HC, Singh apparently spoke of the evolution which the broadcast industry has undergone over the past few years particularly with the switch from analogue to digital. Among other things, he batted for providing a level playing field to distribution platform operators (DPOs) and indicated that the prospect of advertising revenues goes up with a higher subscriber base for which conditions have been made quite conducive through policy formulation.
Calling for the essential need of creating informed consumers and bestowing them with multiple choices, he urged the necessity for the broadcasters to declare the a-la-carte price of their pay channels. This, he argued, would ensure that the consumers are not taken for a ride and forced to pay for channels which he/she is not interested in watching.
When the bench asked the TRAI counsel as to why the regulator did not allow broadcasters to bundle high-definition (HD) and standard-definition (SD) channels together, Singh apparently shot back by claiming that the broadcasters had only asked for such an arrangement during the consultation process. In fact, he went on to add that they were surprised that the broadcasters are now opposing it after having specifically asked for such a separation previously. The regulator also reportedly shared with the court a set of comments that came in from the side of different broadcasters while the consultation stage was on.
Going further, it was recalled by TRAI that broadcasters would sell the distribution rights to multiple system operators (MSOs) at the wholesale level during the erstwhile regime. As a result, the price of channels had no direct linkages to the consumers. Under the new tariff order and interconnect regulations, the broadcasters, TRAI mentioned, could accordingly set the price for consumers. Other portions of the argument revolved around explaining the rationale behind the provisions relating to carriage fees and network capacity.