All Tariff Orders of TRAI for television distribution services are in for a revision, thanks to the Supreme Court declining to stay the order of the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) setting aside the amendments in two tariff orders, which had sought to put an inflation-linked hike of 27.5 per cent on addressable and non-addressable systems.
The TRAI had asked broadcasters on 23 July to revise their wholesale tariffs. The very next day, 24 July the Supreme Court stayed implementation of this letter in view of appeal by Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and others challenging the order by TDSAT on a petition filed and by many LCO associations, DTH operators and a consumer organisation.
While dismissing the appeal challenging TDSAT's order, the Supreme Court on 4 August asked TRAI to come up with new tariffs as early as possible. The Court also said the multi-system operators (MSOs) will not insist on a refund of their payments to broadcasters but will wait for the new tariff orders.
Thus, the apex Court held intact the 28 April order of the Tribunal holding as 'untenable' the Telecommunication (Broadcasting & Cable) Services (Second) Tariff (Eleventh Amendment) Order, 2014' and 'The Telecommunication (Broadcasting & Cable) Services (Second) Tariff (Thirteenth Amendment) Order, 2014'.
In its above mentioned order the Tribunal had observed that the regulator “will be well advised to have a fresh look at the various tariff orders in a holistic manner and come out with a comprehensive tariff order in super session of all the earlier tariff orders... While doing so, it may consider all the agreements and relevant data available with it. It may consider differentiating between content, which is of a monopolistic nature as against that the like of which is shown by other channels also. It may also consider classifying the content into premium and basic tiers.”
Deeptesh Chandra a Gurgaon based DAS MSO (Technopile Systems) reacting to the above order has already approached TRAI chairman to revamp the whole regulatory system in a way that benefits all stake holders. In his letter he has highlighted characteristic of the Cable TV industry, what it has been predominantly and how it can evolve with TRAI bringing a just and fair regulation on tariff and also enforcing its existing regulation of non-discrimination and 'on parity' behaviour on all the broadcasters as related to content pricing, placement fees offered and conduct of technical audit.
Cable TV is one of the only affordable mode of entertainment for the masses of our Nation. Cable TV is also the only medium which can enable access to affordable broadband technology for the masses. So, it is important for TRAI to preserve and protect this industry in the interest of the masses of this Nation.
Historically, this industry has been monopolized and cartelized by the so called national MSOs and the pay TV broadcasters with deep pockets, driving many small and independent MSOs/LCOs out of business.
Deeptesh has requested TRAI to consider the following points while revising its Tariff order:
1. Pay TV channels should not be allowed to display any advertisement.
2. There should be strict enforcement of Parity and non-discrimination clause of the regulation in terms of the subscription fees and carriage/placement fees.
3. The tariff for the end subscriber should also be fixed and fair revenue share should be enforced for the broadcasters, MSOs and the LCOs
4. Carriage/Placement fees should be explicitly brought under regulation as it is the root cause of corruption and discourages level playing field for independent operators.
5. All the executed interconnect agreement for subscription and carriage fees between broadcasters and every MSO should be made available on the TRAI website for ready reference for all to ensure transparency.
6. Enforcement of aggregator regulation as the broadcasters are still circumventing the regulation by appointing agents and distributors who continue to bundle the channels from different broadcasters, thereby violating the aggregator clause of the regulation.
7. Cross holding restrictions should be strictly imposed on broadcaster owned MSOs/DTH players.
Vikki Chowdhary, another MSO has also written to the TRAI Chairman to revise the tariff in the interest of consumers and to ensure a level playing field on nondiscriminatory terms with parity in conducting the business.