TRAI urges Tamil Nadu cable ops to withdraw legal notice as Star defers changes in RIO

Tamil Nadu Digital Cable TV Operators Association had issued a legal notice to TRAI to issue direction to the pay channel broadcasters against inflating the prices of Cable TV channels

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Published: Jan 5, 2022 9:03 AM  | 4 min read

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has urged the Tamil Nadu Digital Cable TV Operators Association to withdraw legal notice against it following the deferment of changes made by broadcaster Star India in its revised Reference Interconnect Offer (RIO) filed on 15th October 2021.

Tamil Nadu Digital Cable TV Operators Association through Utkrishtha Law Offices had issued a legal notice to TRAI to issue direction to the pay channel broadcasters against inflating the prices of Cable TV channels. TV broadcasters had increased the prices of popular TV channels by pricing them above Rs 20 and keeping them out of the bouquet. The broadcasters had filed fresh RIOs in compliance with the NTO 2.0.

In its legal notice to the TRAI, the association had alleged that Star India has put an illegal clause in the RIO that the MSOs have to continue the channels on the old LCNs only, and they cannot change it. "It is pertinent to mention here that if a new RIO is being asked to be implemented then all its terms are liable to be re-negotiated and the broadcaster cannot favourably keep the clauses of the old RIOs."

In a letter to the association, the regulator said it had issued a letter dated 10th November to broadcasters and Distribution Platform Operators (DPOs) on the implementation plan for New Regulatory Framework 2020 wherein all the broadcasters have been asked to report to the authority, any change in name, nature, language, Maximum Retail Price (MRP) per month of channels, the composition of bouquets and MRP of bouquets of channels as per the New Regulatory Framework 2020, by 31st December 2021 and simultaneously publish such information on their websites.

"In light of the TRAI's above-mentioned letter dated 10.11.2021, M/s Star India Private Limited (Broadcaster) has intimated about deferment of all changes made in its revised Reference Interconnect Offer filed on 15.10.2021. In view of the foregoing, you are, therefore, advised to withdraw the said Legal Notice as against TRAI," the letter reads.

The regulator added that no permission/licence is granted by the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) for OTT platforms at present, therefore, tariff orders issued by TRAI do not apply to OTT platforms.

The association had sought TRAI's intervention to direct broadcasters to reduce prices in the larger interest of the industry. "In the circumstances, TRAI being the guardian of all the service providers of Cable TV Industry are requested to interfere in the current situation immediately by rejecting the New RIOs published by the Broadcasters and direct them to reduce the prices as the same will cause irreparable loss to the entire industry."

The association had stated that major broadcasters like Star India, Sony Pictures, IndiaCast, and ZEEL have issued their RIOs wherein it can be calculated that majorly subscribed channels by the consumers will be inflated by 100% to 200%.

The legal notice further stated that Over The Top (OTT) services providers like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, and Voot are trying to make their services more affordable to increase their subscriber base, the service providers of this industry will have to increase their rates substantially which will certainly cause loss to the subscriber base of the LCOs and MSOs.

"That we hereby point out that most of these pay channel broadcasters are providing their services to the actual customers through various OTT channels wherein the same pay channels are available at much lower costs as compared with Cable TV and the broadcasting industry. Hence, this abnormal substantial rise in prices by the broadcasters only for the Cable TV industry will cut the throat of Local Cable Operators and Multi-System Operators of the Industry," the association said in its legal notice to the TRAI.

The legal notice also stated that the price increase will lead to a loss in the subscriber base for the industry which will cause revenue loss to the government which charges 18% GST on the Cable TV services. "It is needless to mention here that the practical implementation of NTO 2020 has caused losses from all the corners to the industry, subscribers, and the nation as well," it noted.

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