SC asks Trai not to notify tariff order, Madras HC case to continue
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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday allowed Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to go ahead with the consultation process of draft tariff order and interconnect regulations for the broadcast sector, ‘but said that Trai can’t notify these without referring them to the apex court.’
A bench comprising justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Rohinton F. Nariman modified a December 2016 order by the Madras high court that restrained Trai from fixing prices of TV channels.
The government’s top law officer attorney general Mukul Rohatgi told the court that mere continuation of a consultation process would not prejudice the interest of broadcasters.
Meanwhile, the case will next be heard in Madras HC on 19 January.
Following a petition filed by television broadcaster Star India Pvt. Ltd and its subsidiary, Vijay Television Pvt. Ltd, on the grounds that the draft tariff regulations issued by Trai stand in conflict with the Copyright Act, 1957, the Madras high court in December had ordered Trai to maintain a status quo in its order.
In the draft order issued in October 2016, Trai had proposed a new tariff framework for pricing and packaging of TV channels offered to subscribers, listing channel genres and a genre-wise ceiling on the channel prices. Trai had listed seven genres for television channels, down from current 11 and had also fixed a maximum price for each genre.
Additionally, it had asked the broadcasters to fix the maximum retail price (excluding taxes) for à la carte pay channels.
However, the draft order has drawn flak from television broadcasters and broadcasting associations. In their comments uploaded on Trai website, television broadcasters had explained that the cost of the content is to be determined by market forces and the intellectual property/copyright owners under the Copyright Act are free to recover the perceived value of the content. Hence, Trai can’t put a ceiling on channel and genre prices.
“India’s pay-TV regulations have long been among the strictest in the world. The proposed new rules are highly intrusive and would make the environment much worse. Such a heavy-handed regulatory regime will inevitably hit foreign companies’ interest in investing in India,” said Christopher Slaughter, chief executive officer at CASBAA in a statement issued on Monday. CASBAA is a Hong-Kong based media organization for the Asia-Pacific region.