Ad cap dispute to move to High Court?

MUMBAI: Its wings have been clipped. If one goes by the decision of the Supreme Court announced yesterday, all appeals against regulations set by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) will now be dealt with in the various High Courts, not by the Telecom Disputes and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT).


TRAI has since 2010 been contending that TDSAT cannot hear appeals against its regulations, only those against its directions, decisions or orders. And yesterday a bench of the Supreme Court ruled in its favour.


The authority normally sets regulations on issues such as rates, inter-connection and quality of service. TDSAT, TRAI states, was set up to adjudicate any dispute between a licensor and a licensee, between two or more service providers, between a service provider and a group of consumers, and to hear and dispose appeals against a direction, decision or order of TRAI.


This is clearly set to have an impact on the course of the ad cap regulation set by the TRAI, which the TDSAT is set to adjudicate upon, following hearings involving broadcasters' and the regulator's lawyers. Broadcasters have been stating that the TRAI-mandated ad cap is going to have a detrimental impact on their business and the argument has been on whether it is in the form of a direction or a regulation. The stance of the TRAI has been that what it has issued is a regulation and not a direction under the quality of service, keeping in mind the interests of consumers.


Observers expect the ad cap hearing to now move to the High Court. Other cases that will be impacted included the VAS regulation which has crippled the VAS industry but was issued by the TRAI keeping in mind consumer interest.


The background of the Supreme Court ruling is that over the years several appeals have been filed with it by telcos such as Bharat Sanchar Nigam , Cellular Operators Association of India, Tata Teleservices and Reliance Infocomm against TDSAT orders involving regulations set by TRAI. And the TRAI had itself filed a petition in the Supreme Court in 2010 against a TDSAT order which had asked the authority to take a fresh look at the telecommunication interconnection (port charges) Amendment regulation 2007 after Bharat Sanchar Nigam had filed an appeal against it.


TRAI had under that regulation reduced port charges by about 23 to 29 per cent on various slabs.


TRAI had petitioned in the Supreme Court that TDSAT can only decide against any direction, decision or order passed by the TRAI, and not its regulations. And yesterday’s ruling by the Supreme Court clearly indicates where the law of the land lies.

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