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TRAI tariff order implementation in limbo though Star indicates publishing RIO

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TRAI tariff order implementation in limbo though Star indicates publishing RIO

Leading television broadcaster Star India is expected to furnish its Reference Interconnection Offer (RIO) on its website following the dismissal of its stay plea in the Madras High Court on April 28. Though the deadline of May 2 set by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has passed, quite a few broadcasters, including Star, have not complied with the ruling. “We will upload our RIO shortly,” said a highly placed source at Star, while refraining from confirming whether the broadcaster had sought additional time from TRAI to abide by the regulations.

Incidentally, a report claimed that Star wrote to TRAI on May 2, asking for 10 additional days to publish their RIO which will have the rates of its various channels. If the same is true, then it could be an attempt on the part of the broadcaster to buy crucial time before its plea for stay comes up for hearing in the Supreme Court. An apex court bench, led by Chief Justice of India JS Khehar, refused to entertain Star’s plea for an early hearing in the matter on May 1, a day before the tariff order and interconnect regulations were to be enforced.

While the main petition challenging the constitutionality of the tariff order will be given the final hearing before the Madras HC on June 12, broadcasters opposed to the tariff order would be hoping for some reprieve from the Supreme Court. However, if one is to go by the order of the Madras HC pronounced last week, then there is a clear split within broadcasters as far as their stance towards TRAI’s regulations are concerned. The division bench of the Madras HC, comprising Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice M Sundar, noted that “many broadcasters”, who were under the wing of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation, are now in favour of the regulations.

On the other hand, member Multiple System Operators (MSOs) of All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF), an intervener in the Madras HC case, uploaded their RIOs on May 2. Acting as a representative of nearly 10 MSOs, the AIDCF urged broadcasters to follow suit by publishing the channel rates. The MSOs have stuck to uniform carriage rates of 0.20 paisa and 0.40 paisa for transmitting standard-definition (SD) and high-definition (HD) channels, respectively. It is important to mention that commercial transactions as per the agreements under the new regime will be effective after four months from September 1.   

Meanwhile, direct-to-home (DTH) operator Tata Sky is also said to be in the process of challenging the validity of the tariff order before the Delhi High Court. An SMS sent by exchange4media to Tata Sky’s Managing Director & CEO Harit Nagpal, seeking a confirmation regarding the DTH operator’s legal recourse, went unanswered. It is unclear why Tata Sky waited for so long prior to initiating legal proceedings since the first draft of the tariff order was made available by TRAI in October 2016. In terms of bundling, the regulations make it necessary to provide all pay channels on an a-la-carte basis. DTH providers, including Tata Sky, had so far bundled channels as per genres.

Broadcasters and distributors are not allowed to offer any pay channel as part of a bouquet if its MRP exceeds Rs 19 per month. Moreover, the discount on a bouquet of channels has been capped at not less than 85% of the sum total of the individual channel MRPs. The distributors of television channels have also been restricted from charging more than Rs 130 per month from a subscriber for providing 100 SD channels. Additional network capacity can be availed of in slabs of 25 SD channels by a subscriber at a price not exceeding Rs 20 per month. While exchange4media sent TRAI an email, enquiring about its preparedness to implement the new set of rules, our queries did not elicit a response at the time of filing of this report.

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