New Delhi: Households across the country will now have to pay only Rs130 per month, excluding taxes, to access 100 standard definition television channels, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) said on Friday.

Trai notified the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services (Eight) (Addressable systems) Tariff Order, 2017—a new framework for the pricing of television channels offered to subscribers—and uploaded a copy of the order on its website.

The regulator’s move came just hours after the Supreme Court lifted a stay preventing it from notifying the tariff order, in a case filed by Star India Pvt. Ltd and its subsidiary Vijay Television Pvt. Ltd challenging Trai’s jurisdiction to regulate content.

Currently, cable operators charge a minimum of Rs200-250 per month from subscribers, depending on the number of channels.

“Initial 100 standard definition (SD) channels can be availed by a subscriber by paying an amount not exceeding Rs130 (excluding taxes) per month to the distributor of TV channels," the regulator said in a statement.

Beyond that, channels will be available in slabs of 25 and an amount not exceeding Rs20 (excluding taxes) will be charged per slab, it said.

To be sure, the 100 SD channels will include those that are to be mandatorily provided to subscribers as notified by the central government. Additionally, the regulator has also capped the maximum retail price of a channel at Rs19. Any channel priced at more than Rs19 will not be a part of channel bouquet and will have to be offered to subscribers on an à la carte basis, the regulator said, adding that subscribers will be charged separately for distribution network capacity and channels.

“It will take four-five months’ time to bring this order into effect. The idea is to bring transparency and to ensure protection of consumer interest. There should be no discrimination in prices," said a Trai official who did not want to be identified.

Until now, broadcasters and distribution platform operators (DPOs) had the upper hand in deciding prices of channels to be charged from subscribers. DPOs obtain TV channels (at a negotiated price) from broadcasters and deliver these to subscribers via cable TV, direct-to-home (DTH) operators and head-end in the sky (HITS) networks.

“It is a welcome move. There is no transparency in pricing channels right now. Multi-system operators and cable operators can charge anything. For the first time, the prices have been prescribed," said Roop Sharma, president of the Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI).

The regulator has also notified interconnection and quality of service orders which will regulate the agreements and deal structure between the broadcasters and DPOs and other stakeholders, along with the service quality offered to the subscribers.

However, the tariff order is likely to be challenged by Star India and Vijay Television in the next hearing in Madras high court, due on 7 March. A bench comprising justices P.C. Ghose and Rohinton F. Nariman of the apex court said the case will continue to be heard before the high court and Trai cannot seek an adjournment.

Star India and Vijay Television had challenged Trai’s jurisdiction vis-a-vis regulating content. In comments published on Trai website, other broadcasters had also voiced concerns that content regulation was governed by the provisions of the Copyright Act and did not fall within Trai’s domain.

“The order will harm consumer interest and the industry. The copyright owners are free to recover the perceived value of the content under the Copyright Act. Trai cannot regulate content," said an executive at a leading broadcaster who did not want to be identified.

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