Star India strikes back at TRAI before Madras HC, claims regulator cannot price pay channels

The rejoinders will continue tomorrow with Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi appearing on behalf of Vijay TV

e4m by Saif Ahmad Khan
Published: Jul 19, 2017 7:11 PM  | 3 min read

Presenting the rejoinder to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s submissions, Star India’s counsel P Chidambaram insisted that the parent act of the regulator does not bestow it with the power to regulate the broadcast sector pricing unconditionally. Reacting to the 2004 notification, the former Finance Minister claimed that TRAI’s authority to “frame the norms” and “periodicity of revision of rates” pertained only to carriage rates and not the price of the pay channels per se. Sources told exchange4media that Star’s rejoinder emphatically stated that TRAI can “regulate the means through which the transmission takes place” but not anything beyond that.

Negating TRAI’s charge that broadcasters are service providers, Star mentioned that their status as a service provider is very limited in scope under TRAI Act, 1997. Moreover, they disagreed with the said description under Section 4 of Telegraph Act. On the subject of copyright, Chidambaram said that the broadcast reproduction right (BRR) is significant with its establishment taking place at the time of uplinking since the broadcaster is communicating with the people directly. He went on to add that BRR does not get created after the act of an intermediary.

Lastly, responding to the intervener’s charge that the separation of pay and free-to-air channel bouquets had taken place only as per Star’s representation to TRAI, the broadcaster suggested that their comments were in relation to a specific situation. Given the fact that the distribution platform operators were deconstructing the bouquets created by broadcasters and reconstructing them as per their own requirements, it was essential to divide pay and FTA channel bouquets to clamp down on the activities of DPOs. Nevertheless, they added that the current regime effectively kills the efficiency of their own business. Thus, Star maintained that their response to the consultation paper floated by TRAI should not be seen as contradictory to the current plea.

Sources on the other side were, however, left unimpressed. They told exchange4media that Star’s counsel focussed simply on “means of transmission” and did not touch upon the tariff regulations issued in 2010 and 2012. A source claimed that he even erroneously referred to the genre-wise price ceilings which were present in the original draft released in October 2016. They were later expunged from the tariff order and interconnect regulations notified by TRAI in March 2017. Sources even disagreed with his explanation concerning the creation of BRR at the time of uplinking indicating that the broadcast is not complete at that point in time. The rejoinders will continue tomorrow before the Madras High Court with Chidambaram’s Congress colleague Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi representing Vijay TV.

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