LCOs can jointly file petitions to air grievances: TDSAT

NEW DELHI: In a preliminary observation that may have far-reaching consequences, the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Arbitration Tribunal (TDSAT) has found no legal impediment in local cable operators (LCOs) coming together in an association to raise their grievances.
TDSAT rejected the preliminary objection by Siti Cable Networks counsel Tejveer Bhatia that under Section 14 of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, the Tribunal has the jurisdiction to adjudicate any dispute between (i) a licensor and licensee; (ii) two or more service providers; and (iii) a service provider and a group of consumers. 
According to Bhatia, the Jabalpur Cable Operators Welfare Association does not come under any of these three categories. 
TDSAT chairman Justice Aftab Alam, member Kuldip Singh, and B B Srivastava said, “We are unable to accept the objection. The petitioner is a registered association of cable operators. It is representing 90 cable
operators, who are in dispute with the respondent, a multi system operator.”
The Tribunal said, “The nature of the dispute between the cable operators and the MSO is the same. Each of the cable operator is a service provider and each of them can approach this Tribunal in respect of its disputes with the respondent. But being small operators they may not have the necessary wherewithall and the resources to agitate its grievances before the Tribunal sited in Delhi. If, therefore, for financial and logistical reasons, the cable operators pool their resources and authorise the association to represent them before the Tribunal, we see no legal impediment in their maintaining this petition. More so, as each of the cable operator by virtue of the
authorisation given to the association, will be bound by the orders passed in this petition.”
Noting that the issues raised in the petition are substantial and need consideration by the Tribunal, it directed the parties to maintain status quo until further orders. In case any payment falls due before the next date in this case, the cable operators (90 in number) will make payment to Siticable at the rate at which each of them made the last payment. Subject to this direction, Siticable will not discontinue supply of its signals to the cable operators.
The Tribunal directed Bhatia to file the reply within a week. But it said Bhatia will be free to reagitate the issue of maintainability of the petition, and the point, if so required may be considered in greater detail. 
Listing the matter for 6 October, the Tribunal said rejoinder, if any, may be filed within a week from the date of receipt of copy of the reply.

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