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Plea challenging TRAI order purely on commercial interests, Broadcasters to HC
Major broadcasters, including Star, on Thursday told the Kerala High Court that AIDCF, a federation of MSOs, has challenged TRAI’s 2022 tariff order purely for commercial interests and not because they were concerned about the consumers.
Star, represented by senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, told Justice Shaji P Chaly that MSOs get Rs 130 per consumer per set-top box each month and want the price cap on channels to be at Rs 12 so that the consumer base increases.
“More consumers means more boxes and so more money for them. So it is a purely commercial interest and not in the interests of the general public,” he contended.
Besides that, the MSOs get 20 per cent commission from the subscription collected from each consumer.
“So the commission would depend upon the channel price,” the senior lawyer contended.
Regarding the disconnection of signals of some MSOs last weekend, Rohatgi told the court that under the law broadcasters were required to block signals to MSOs if there is no agreement with them within 90 days after the tariff order.
“Since November 1, 2022, we have been asking them (MSOs) to sign the agreement, but they did not come. Hence, we had to disconnect signals,” he said.
The broadcasters, including Sony, and an association representing them also told the court that nearly 97 per cent of the stakeholders have signed the agreement and therefore, crores of consumers are not affected as claimed by the All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF).
The broadcasters were arguing for dismissal of AIDCF’s plea challenging telecom regulator TRAI’s November 2022 interconnect regulations and tariff order.
The arguments would continue on Friday.
AIDCF has claimed in its plea that under the 2020 regime, the price of the “driver” channel in a bouquet was capped at Rs 12, but under the latest tariff order it has been increased to Rs 19.
However, even the 2020 regime was not properly implemented till now by TRAI, it had alleged.
TRAI had refuted the allegation, saying that the 2020 regulations and tariff order regarding TV channel pricing was not implemented as all stakeholders, including AIDCF, were of the view that it requires a re-look.
The telecom regulator also claimed that AIDCF had consented to the price cap of Rs 19 per channel.
The multi-system operators (MSOs), represented by the AIDCF and the Kerala Communicators Cable Ltd, have contended in their plea that TRAI’s amended interconnect regulations and tariff order of November last year were “arbitrary” and “take away from the consumer their choice and autonomy”.
They have also claimed that TRAI has ‘failed’ to regulate the pricing of television channels or cap their prices.
AIDCF is India’s apex body for Digital Multi System Operators (MSOs) and its members include Asianet Satellite Communications, Hathway Cable and Den Networks, according to the petition.
“An analysis of the packs announced after the impugned 2022 tariff amendment which are yet to be implemented or passed onto consumers demonstrates that consumers will need to pay between 20-40 per cent higher prices on regularly subscribed channels,” the petition has claimed. PTI