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Trai may amend tariff order to tackle channel hopping issue

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NEW DELHI: Cable and broadcast regulator, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) may have to amend its tariff order dated 1 October 2004 to tackle the issue of a channel hopping from one bouquet to another vis-?-vis pricing.



According to sources in the industry, the regulator is seized of the issue, specifically that relating to HBO, and may hold consultations within the organisation as well as with the industry. Trai's contention is that if a channel hops a bouquet, then any review of the pricing structure should not be passed on to the consumer. The broadcaster concerned and the cable sector should resolve the problem in an ideal scenario.



By year-end, HBO's agreement with One Alliance will come to an end and the premier movie channel will hop back on to the Zee Turner bandwagon.



The core issue is: would Zee Turner increase its subscription price after getting back HBO and would One Alliance reduce the bouquet prices after HBO's departure so that the consumer does not get to feel the difference?



The sources pointed out that if this does not happen, then the tariff order would "have to be amended suitably" to specifically address the issue.



Trai had said last week that while it is reviewing the annual price increase of cable rates, a freeze ordered earlier this year would continue. To maintain the sanctity of the ceiling, which had been made effective from 26 December 2003, the regulator had decided that pay channels launched after 26 December should not be allowed to become part of the bouquet of channels being provided as on the cut-off date.



A similar rule would apply for those channels that were free-to-air on 26 December 2003 and later convert to pay. It is expected that this would give choice to the operators and through them the consumers, Trai had said. Trai added that the new pay channels may be offered to the cable operator individually or as a new bouquet of channels that are not covered by the ceiling specified by the tariff order dated 15 January 2004.



Since the regulator had not envisaged a HBO-type situation, specific measures had not been taken, a Trai source said, adding, "But now this issue needs to be tackled if One Alliance, for example, after HBO's departure does not reduce its price equivalent to the increase that is effected by Zee Turner, if any."

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