Cable TV

LCOs challenge TRAI DAS order in High Court By Seema Singh

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MUMBAI: The Gujarat Cable Operators Association (GCOA) has approached the High Court of Gujarat against the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the central government of India and state government against the ruling on digitisation.

In the petition submitted to the HC, the petitioner has challenged the legality of Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services Tariff and the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable Services) Interconnection Regulations.

In the current scenario, as defined by the regulator, the revenue share ratio between the MSOs and LCOs is 55:45 for free-to-air channels and 65:35 with respect to pay channels. The LCOs in Gujarat find it discriminatory and prejudicial to their interest.

“We have challenged all the notifications passed by TRAI. This includes revenue share, consumer application forms (CAFs) and billing,” informs Gujarat Cable Operators Association president Pramod Pandya. The laws, according to Pandya are complicated and aim at completely removing the presence of LCOs from the cable industry. “We feel that every order passed till date with regards to digitisation is one-sided. All the laws have been drawn up against the LCOs,” he adds.

The association on 2 September 2013 moved to the Supreme Court with the matter. The SC then ordered them to address the issue to the High Court first. “We then filed a petition to the Gujarat HC on 10 September,” he informs.

The court during its 13 November hearing has asked the TRAI and government to declare the reasons for formulating the existing laws pertaining to tariff and interconnection in the next 15 days.

“I don’t understand the basis of these laws. It is the LCOs who build the customer base and now all of a sudden we have been asked to transfer our rights to the MSOs,” says Pandya.

The LCOs also feel that the issues relating to digitisation have never been discussed with the registered 60,000 cable operators.

“None of the state cable operator associations were called before the process of digitisation was enforced.”

The cable operators in Gujarat, say they are only asking for their rights. “If I don’t have a right, then why should I collect revenue or collect CAFs from consumers? We have built the customer base for all these years. The MSO give us the signal, for which we pay them a rent and then bill the customer. How can government all of a sudden ask us to not do the billing?” questions Pandya.

According to the petition filed, of which indiantelevision.com has a copy of, the members of the petitioning association under the said provisions work under the MSOs as their revenue collecting agents while at the same time provide maintenance and services to the subscribers on behalf of the MSOs at their own cost since the entire cable network has been laid down by them over a number of years.

The association has some 2500 cable operators as its members. “We are not targeting MSOs...they are only following what the TRAI has asked them to do.”

The LCOs feel that their roles have been reduced to mere commission agents.

“We are being forced to depend on the MSOs,” opines Pandya. Under digitisation, it is mandatory for the LCOs to collect and submit CAFs. “This is harsh and oppressive since it would compel the LCOs to share their subscriber’s base with the MSO’s making them more vulnerable,” says Pandya.

He is clear that till there is no clarification on the notifications passed by TRAI, the cable operators in Gujarat will not even seed set top boxes. When asked if the operators will meet the CAF deadline he says, “It is a court case now. We have challenged every aspect of digitisation. So till this is resolved and the court passes an order on this, there will be no CAF collection or billing in Gujarat.”

The association had in the beginning of DAS phase II approached the High Court, which had then given a stay order for 16 days for implementation of DAS. “The process of digitisation started only from 16 April in Gujarat. So far only four cities of Gujarat: Surat, Baroda, Ahmedabad and Rajkot have moved ahead on this,” he concludes.

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