TV Channel rates: Supreme Court restrains Trai from fixing tariffs

By: | Published: February 22, 2017 5:55 AM

The Supreme Court has restrained the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to notify its tariff order and interconnect regulations, which were submitted in a sealed cover, to fix television prices for the Rs 54,220-crore Indian television industry.

Star India had contended that Trai overstretched its jurisdiction by fixing content prices under the TRAI Act 1997 and the regulator was being too harsh against content creators in the name of creating a level-playing field.

The Supreme Court has restrained the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to notify its tariff order and interconnect regulations, which were submitted in a sealed cover, to fix television prices for the R54,220-crore Indian television industry. A bench led by justice PC Ghosh refused to permit the telecom watchdog to notify the guidelines and traiff order, saying let the Madras High Court hear the matter in March. However, the bench had last month modified the HC’s status quo order of December 23 that essentially froze the Trai’s powers to fix television prices. However, the SC had clarified that the final regulations/tariff orders shall be submitted to the apex court first.

Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi appeared for Trai, and Star India was represented by senior counsel P Chidambaram. Trai had challenged the HC’s staus quo order saying it was “clearly erroneous, contrary to law and not in the public interest”.

Star India had contended that Trai overstretched its jurisdiction by fixing content prices under the TRAI Act 1997 and the regulator was being too harsh against content creators in the name of creating a level-playing field.

In October 2016, Trai had issued a consultation paper on a draft tariff order which allegedly suggested radical changes that would have impacted business and distribution revenue of all channels in a consultation paper.

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The draft tariff order and regulations had followed an extensive consultation process involving all stakeholders. 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 R130 (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 R20 (excluding taxes) will be charged per slab. Broadcasters and broadcasting associations expressed concern over Trai’s tariff order which suggested them to adopt a distribution model for TV channels in which broadcasters fix the maximum retail price (MRP) within the price cap set by Trai for selling à la carte pay channels directly to the subscribers. So far, channel distributors had an upper hand in deciding the prices.

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