Following the Supreme Court order, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on June 11 had issued a consultation paper that relooks at the regulatory framework for tariff applicable for commercial subscribers. The Hon’ble Supreme Court on 16 April 2014 had directed that the impugned tariff, which is in force as on today, shall continue for a period of three months. Further, within these three months, TRAI will look into the matter de novo and re-determine the tariff after hearing the contentions of all the stakeholders.
The matter of tariff for commercial subscribers has been under judicial scrutiny since 2005 before both the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) and the Supreme Court. The Authority meanwhile, based on the interim order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court dated 19.10.2006, had issued Tariff Amendment Orders, on 21.11.2006, applicable on commercial subscribers. These orders too were contested before the judicial forums. In the latest order the Hon’ble Supreme Court has directed TRAI to look into the matter de novo and shall re–determine the tariff after hearing the contentions of all the stakeholders.
Structure of Consultation Paper
The consultation paper ‘Tariff Issues Related to Broadcasting and Cable TV Services for Commercial Subscribers’ covers issues like definition of ‘commercial subscriber’, ‘commercial establishment’; categorisation of commercial subscribers; manner of offering of TV services to the commercial subscribers; and various alternatives of tariff for the commercial subscribers. In the consultation paper, the authority has proposed definitions of commercial subscriber and commercial establishment drawing from the Shops and Establishments Act in various states.
Definition of commercial subscribers : According to TRAI, Commercial Subscriber” means any person, other than a MSOs/LCOs, who receives broadcasting service at a place indicated by him to a broadcaster or a MSOs or LCOs or DTH ops or HITS ops or a service provider offering Internet Protocol television service, as the case may be, and uses such signals for the benefit of his clients, customers, members. On the other hand, a ‘commercial establishment’ has been defined as any premises wherein any trade, business or profession or any work in connection with, or incidental or ancillary thereto is carried out and includes a society registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860. However, it does not include a shop or a factory registered under the Factories Act, 1948.The underlying idea of the above definitions is to shift the focus from the concept of ‘end user’ and, instead, define a commercial subscriber as a commercial establishment that avails the broadcasting or cable service from a broadcaster or a MSOs/LCOs, as the case may be, the authority reasoned. It may also be noted that as per the proposed definition of ‘commercial subscriber’, the TV signals can be obtained by the commercial subscriber either from any of the DPOs (MSOs, and LCOs) or from the broadcaster directly. It would be the responsibility of the commercial subscriber to ensure distribution of TV signals in digital and encrypted form within its commercial establishment in case it obtains signals directly from the broadcaster.
Categorisation of commercial subscribers : According to TRAI, commercial subscribers are of different kinds, depending on their size of business, paying capacity of their clients, objectives of the business and extent to which the TV services contribute to the same. Therefore, one view could be that commercial subscribers may be further sub-categorised into groups of similarly placed entities.
Manner of offering to the commercial subscribers : Another relevant aspect is the manner in which the TV signals are made available to the commercial subscribers. The authority has proposed following possible models:
1.Only the broadcaster publishes the rates for commercial tariff in the form of RIO in accordance with the laid down regulatory framework for the same.
2.The second possibility is that, the DPO publishes the rates for commercial tariff in the form of RIO in accordance with the laid down regulatory framework for the same.
3.The third model could be a combination of the above two models. In this model both the above options are available to the commercial subscribers.
Tariff for commercial subscribers : The next logical issue is that what should be the tariff for commercial subscribers? The authority has suggested that there can be four alternative tariffs for commercial subscribers.
I.The tariff for commercial subscribers is same as that for ordinary subscribers.
II.The tariff for commercial subscribers has a linkage with tariff for ordinary subscribers.
III.The tariff for commercial subscribers has no linkage with the tariff for ordinary subscribers but there are some protective measures prescribed to protect all the stakeholders.
IV.The tariff for commercial subscribers is kept under total forbearance.