MUMBAI: It’s the battle of the bill – the commercial cable TV bill, that is. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on 16 July 2014 issued an amendment to its earlier 2004 broadcasting and cable TV tariff order. The amendment brought in new customer categories such as commercial establishments and commercial subscribers. And it also stated that as far as cable TV rates are concerned, there shouldn’t be any differentiation on an ordinary and commercial subscriber and charges for both should be on a per TV set basis.
That amendment has not gone down well with the Indian broadcast community as they have been lobbying for differential rates for commercial subscribers for a long time and the global practice is that commercial establishment and subscribers pay more than common subscribers.
Its representative body, the Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF) decided to challenge the tariff order for non-digital addressable areas (DAS) in the Telecom Disputes Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT). And industry leader Star India decided to file a writ petition against the TRAI challenging the order for both non DAS and DAS and other addressable systems in the Delhi High Court.
Coincidentally both the cases came up for hearing on the same day. While the HC declined to give a stay order on the 16 July 2014 tariff order amendment, it has served notices to both the TRAI and the Federation of Hotels and Restaurants Association of India (FHRAI).
The matter has been posted for a full-fledged hearing on 26 September. Till then, the order is maintainable. Meanwhile, the TDSAT has said that it will wait till the HC decides on the case to take any further action.
What Star India has challenged in the HC is that the 16 July 2014 amendment order denies broadcasters the right to directly deal with the hotels. Star India has also appealed that it will have to unnecessarily depend on distribution platform operators DPOs to strike content deals as for commercial establishments, which might be treated as ordinary subscribers unless they specifically charge customers for cable TV subscribers. The broadcaster can only give a differentiated rate to those hotels that categorically mention TV as one of the services, thereby being deeming it fit to be called a commercial subscriber.
The TRAI and FHRAI have been asked to respond to notices by the next hearing.