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TRAI Must Explain Why Cable,DTH Users Can Select Channels By 31 March

As the confused roll-out of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s new tariff guidelines for cable and direct to home (DTH) services continues, the Delhi High Court has taken note of the alterations in implementation as ordered by the regulatory, since February 1. The one change in particular which the Delhi High Court wants an explanation for is the extension of the deadline for the implementation of the new tariff to 31 March, despite the new tariffs becoming applicable on 1 February. Chief Justice Rajendra Menon has asked TRAI to file an affidavit within a week, to explain the reasons for extending the deadline of implementation of the new tariff plans to 31 March

The Delhi High Court was hearing the ongoing legal battle between Tata Sky along with Discovery Communications, Bharti Telemedia’s Airtel Digital TV and Sun Direct and the regulator TRAI regarding the implementation of the new tariff regime for cable and DTH services. The case has now been adjourned till 23 February, at which time TRAI will also have to file its explanation about the constant changes in the implementation of the new guidelines.

With the latest extension and the new guidelines, TRAI has somewhat complicated the situation by shifting the power to change subscription packages to the cable operators and DTH service providers, though it had claimed all along that the power of choice was in the hands of the consumers. Additionally, it is still not known how cable and DTH companies will be able to pay the broadcasters according to the new tariff regime which also dictates the price of each channel, when some of the subscribers would be paying old subscription prices and some are now paying the newly mandated rates.

Earlier this week, the TRAI had extended the deadline for switching to the new channel pricing and subscription tariff regime—subscribers now have till 31 March to make the switch and will ideally not face disruption of services in the meantime. This is just the latest in multiple extensions that have already been extended, as the implementation of the new tariff regime still drags on.

This latest extension was announced just days after TRAI proclaimed that 65 million cable TV subscribers and 25 million subscribers, in total 90 million television subscribers in India, had made the switch to the new tariff plans already.

There is considerable ambiguity in TRAI’s latest statements though.

“In view of the larger public interest, the Authority directs all DPOs that those subscribers who do not exercise their options shall be migrated to a ‘Best Fit Plan’,” TRAI had said in an official statement, before adding, “The subscribers’ old plan shall continue till either subscriber exercise his/her option, or he/she is migrated to the ‘Best Fit Plan’.” The idea is to mandate that cable tv operators and direct to home (DTH) service providers (referred to as Distribution Platform Owners or DPOs) are free to switch users to what can be considered a ‘best fit’ plan from any of the new subscription packs as per the latest TRAI guidelines, to ensure that the services aren’t disrupted.

But the TRAI also said that “Subscribers will be free to change their ‘Best Fit Plan’ at any date and time on or before 31st March 2019 and DPOs shall convert their ‘Best Fit Plan’ into the desired pack (channel/Bouquet) within 72 hours from the time choice exercised by the Subscriber,” says TRAI in the official statement. Simply put, the DPOs, in this case your cable TV operator of DTH company still have the right to switch you to a best fit plan according to your current subscription, and you have the option to change this before the end of March at any point of time without the DPO holding you to a lock-in-period clause. The ‘best fit’ plan that you will be switched to shall be picked automatically, if you don’t register your choice manually, based on the new channel packages matching most if not all of the channels that you currently subscribe to and will have to be priced the same as or lower than your existing subscription plan. ―News18

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