New Delhi: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) is likely to move the Supreme Court through a special leave petition, challenging the Madras high court’s status quo order on draft tariff regulations for the broadcast sector that restrained it from issuing any further guidelines.
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 asked the regulator not to pass any guidelines on tariff issues in the broadcast sector.
“Trai is trying to bring transparency in the industry by regulating the broadcast distribution system. We have the mandate to regulate tariff, interconnection and quality of service issues in the sector. We will most likely challenge Madras HC’s order in Supreme court,” said a Trai official who did not want to be identified.
In its draft regulation issued in October, Trai had proposed a new tariff framework for the pricing and packaging of TV channels offered to subscribers.
According to the draft order, a total of 100 standard definition channels (one high definition channel is equal to two standard definition channels) will be offered to subscribers at Rs130 (excluding taxes) per month, including channels notified by the central government to be mandatorily provided to subscribers.
Beyond that, the channels will be made available in slabs of 25 each and an amount of Rs20 (excluding taxes) will be charged per slab. Trai had also asked the broadcasters to fix the maximum retail price (excluding taxes) for à la carte pay channels , according to the order.
So far, channel distributors had an upper hand in deciding the prices. These firms —called distribution platform operators—obtain TV channels at a negotiated price from broadcasters and deliver them to subscribers over their cable TV, direct-to-home (DTH) operators and head-end in the sky (HITS) networks.
However, broadcasters and broadcasting associations have expressed concern over Trai’s tariff order and have even asked the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP) to undertake a review of Trai’s authority to regulate the sector. “Broadcasting firms are covered by copyright laws worldwide. We have asked DIPP to undertake a review through stakeholder consultation to align broadcasting laws with the copyright laws,” said an executive of a leading broadcaster on the condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, an inter-ministerial council meeting of officials from information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry, Trai and DIPP will be held on Friday to discuss the aforementioned proposal from industry stakeholders, according to a DIPP official who did not want to be identified.
The DIPP official further said the department is unlikely to engage in a turf war with Trai to shift the tariff setting authority to the Copyright Board. “The meeting will also look into the tariff issue,” the official said.