Regulators

Conflicting claims over Mumbai High Court ruling of 7 March

MUMBAI: The High Court ruling on 7 March 2003 has led to a lot of confusion and varying interpretations amongst the various cable trade constituents.

A division bench of the Mumbai High Court comprising chief justice C L Thakker and Dr DY Chandrachud ruled that the matter would be ordered to be placed in the High Court in the second week of April 2003.

The court order also accepted one of the petitioner's Seven Star cable's undertaking that there would be no disconnection or stoppage of broadcasting of programmes except in individual cases of non-payment of regular charges.

However, the order states that the above statement doesn't prevent arguments on behalf of the MSOs.

Seven Star officials claim that the above mentioned statement is binding on all the MSOs (multi-system operators) in Mumbai. However, the counsels of the other MSOs argue that the decision is binding only on Seven Star (which gave the undertaking) and not necessarily on the other MSOs. They also claim that the existing agreements between the cable operators and the MSOs are still valid.

Other cable sources say that Seven Star isn't a full-fledged MSO in the true sense of the word in terms of their total reach across Mumbai city. They also point out that Seven Star had already hiked its rates in late 2002 and the trade/consumers had protested against these rate hikes then.

Most of the other MSOs increased their rates only in January 2003 as per the new rate agreements with the broadcasters who hiked the rates of the pay channels.

Also, the MSOs say, the consumer prices cannot be determined by the courts and will be determined by market forces. They insist that the cable operators affiliated to them would have to collect the new rates applicable from 1 January 2003 as per the agreement.

The High Court ruling also directed the cable associations named respondents (Mumbai Cable Operators Federation - MCOF - amongst others) to avoid disconnections as the counsel for the petitioners had served notices and undertook the process of filing affidavit of services.

The other cable associations in the city who are not affiliated to MCOF say that the HC ruling is not binding on them.

Meanwhile, the cable operators associations are hoping that at the next CAS task force meeting on 21 March, some indications as to the FTA basic tier pricing will be provided by the government. The cable operators are also awaiting another hearing on the issue of the lower cap of Rs 150 (filed by BJP MP Kirit Somaiya) which is scheduled for 2 April 2003.

Another rumour doing rounds is that cable operators are collecting funds (Rs 1,000 per operator) to petition the Supreme Court. Some operators say that this is the only way to pre-empt any future decision that the High Court may arrive at.

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