With the Bombay High Court giving no specific direction or stay on the implementation of the amended TRAI tariff order, the country is all set to see the introduction of the second version of the tariff order on Sunday.
Over the past three days, the Bombay High Court had been holding a marathon hearing on the changes introduced by TRAI aimed at making TV channels more affordable.
Broadcasters had approached Bombay High Court hoping that the court will give a stay over the implementation of the new rules until the matter is finally decided in the High Court and subsequently in the Supreme Court.
However, despite the High Court holding around 7 hearings so far, they have not been able to secure any interim stay or relief, nor have they been able to get any immunity from punitive action.
As a result, the amended tariff order will come into effect on March 1.
While the consumer-facing provisions — such as the capping of network fee at Rs 160, and the doubling of channels in basic tier to 200 — will be implemented on Sunday, some cable operators may not implement provisions of a related piece of legislation known as Interconnection Regulation.
This piece of regulation applies to the relationship between large cable feed providers and channels.
TRAI had give some relief to channels, particularly smaller channels, as far as their relationship with big cable feed providers (MSOs) are concerned.
Specifically, TRAI had brought down the carriage fee payable by regional channels, relaxed the definition of target market and rationalized placement charges.
However, All India Digital Cable Federation, which counts networks such as Hathway, GTPL, In Digital, Den, Siti Networks, Kerala Vision and UCN as its members, challenged the amendments to the Interconnection Regulations as well as the change to NCF (network charge).
That case was also heard today at the Kerala High Court. The Kerala High Court, which did not stay these amendments to the regulation, nevertheless asked TRAI not to take any ‘precipitative’ steps against the members of AIDCF in case they are found to have violated the Interconnection Regulations and NCF provisions as amended by the TRAI on January 1.
The protection applies only to the members of AIDCF and not to other cable or DTH operators. The immunity from punishment is valid till the court gives a final verdict on the matter.
NTO 2.0 IN EFFECT
However, as far as all the other cable and DTH operators are concerned, TRAI’s tariff order version 2.0 will come into effect on Sunday.
From that day onwards, all channels that are priced above Rs 12 will be removed from all packages and bouquets, including the packages of cable and DTH operators and broadcasters such as Star, Zee and Sony.
In addition, most of the channel packs will also disappear on Sunday, including packages such as Star Value pack, Zee Family Pack and so on.
People who are subscribed to these channels via packs will have to reactivate their channels one by one, as broadcasters have not come out with any alternative packages.
Some of the packages of some of the broadcasters, such as Times Network, Discovery Communications, Jaya TV and Sun TV, will continue to be available even beyond Sunday, as these packages are already in conformity with the amended tariff order.
However, most, if not all, the packages of bigger broadcasters such as Star India, Zee Entertainment and Sony will disappear on that day.
Similarly, most of the so-called DPO packs offered by players such as Tata Sky, Dish TV, Airtel Digital, Hathway, Den, Siti Networks and others will also be withdrawn.
These changes regarding channel packs are applicable to all cable and DTH operators, including members of the AIDCF. That is because these provisions relating to channels and packs were not challenged by the AIDCF in court, and therefore, the court has not passed any orders giving protection to these operators as far as these rules are concerned.
It is not also clear if TRAI will allow cable and DTH operators to continue existing packages as long as they remove channels priced above Rs 12 per month. Further instruction in this regard are awaited from TRAI’s side.
The conclusion of today’s arguments in the Bombay High Court without a stay order marks a major relief for the TRAI, which has been at the receiving end of consumer ire for nearly one year now.
TRAI had tried to get similar rules implemented a year ago, but the effort was scuttled by similar lawsuits filed by various industry participants in various High Courts across the country.
Because these lawsuits, most of the crucial consumer-friendly provisions could not be notified by the TRAI, resulting in a warped piece of legislation that pushed up cable TV and DTH prices substantially for most customers.
While the amended rules will create some inconvenience for users initially, broadcasters are expected to reduce the prices of their 19-rupee channels to 12 rupees if and when the Bombay High Court disposes of their petition in TRAI’s favor.
In case the broadcasters win the case in Bombay High Court, the prices of the channels will continue to be at Rs 19. It is likely that the court will finish hearing the matter and deliver its final judgment next week, after which it will be argued in front of the Supreme Court.