Regulators

Star India commits to renew agreements with MSOs only on basis of RIO, hearing concludes

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NEW DELHI: Judgment was reserved today by the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) in the ‘deep-rooted’ dispute between Hathway and Taj TV, after the hearing that commenced on 25 August and continued on a day-to-day basis.

Before the Tribunal reserved its order, Star India filed an affidavit in which it said it would ‘henceforth’ enter into agreements under the Reference Interconnect Order on a year-to-year basis with all multi-system operators.

It said the RIO would commence three months after the expiry of the erstwhile agreement and would only be on the basis of a published RIO.

It also said it will sign any new agreement on cost per subscriber basis with MSOs operating at national level.

However, it listed eight MSOs working at regional or state level with which it already has CPS agreements and said these will continue for the term for which they are valid and thus last the full term.

The eight MSOs are Inspire Infotech of Delhi, Novabase Digital Entertainment of Delhi, E-Infrastructure and Entertainment, Bangalore, Satellite Channels, Poona Cables Systems and Services of Pune, Sky Channel of Delhi, Home Cable Networks of Chittore District in Andhra Pradesh and City TV of Coimbatore.

In reply to certain queries by the Tribunal in reference to the statement made in paragraph-3 of the affidavit, Star India counsel Saikrishna on instructions received from duly authorised officers present in court stated that in DAS notified areas, any new interconnect agreement with any MSOs operating under a national license or a regional/local license would only be on the basis of the RIO of M/s Star India Pvt. Ltd. and it would not enter into any interconnect agreement in the DAS areas with anyone on fixed fee or on CPS basis for a period of one year.

Primarily, the Tribunal would have to decide on two matters: the first is an interpretation of the date of renewal under Clause 5(16) of the Telecom (Digital Addressable Systems) Interconnect Regulations relating to renewal of agreements, and the other is about the rates according to the arguments put forth by the various parties.

Earlier, counsel Tejveer Singh Bhatia who had been asked by TDSAT chairman Aftab Alam and member Kuldip Singh to assist the Tribunal in clarifying certain issues said the Regulations were clear that if certain channels were provided to one MSO, they had to be provided to any other MSO that asked for them. However, this did not mean that the terms would be the same for all MSOs.

Furthermore, even if channels were put in bouquets, the rates could not be the same as some were regional channels meant for specific areas and others were national channels and the charges would depend on eyeballs. Hence, the negotiation may differ from region to region. But this also meant creation of RIO agreements for every region depending on number of eyeballs.

He also claimed that the Interconnect Regulations allowed him to change the terms and conditions from time to time.

But he was categorical that a RIO could not be thrust upon him as it was only an offer. Clause 5(10) provides the remedy in case the broadcaster turns down a RIO agreement.

He said that the ‘must carry; clause did not mean automatically that the broadcaster will be paid for every channel he beams. It would depend to the number of channels that the subscriber decides to take.

During the hearing, the Tribunal heard various counsel on behalf of Taj TV and Zee TV, Star India, Hathway, Bhaskar (MSO) from Jabalpur and Scod, an MSO from Mumbai and Navi Mumbai.

When listing the case for 25 August, the Tribunal had said: “Unfortunately, the dispute between the two sides is playing out in highly aggressive way and one may add in a rather unpleasant manner. It seems to be affecting a large number of people in viewing their favourite TV channels. The disputants themselves are approaching the Tribunal on a weekly basis complaining against the actions of each other and seeking some interim directions of the Tribunal consuming a lot of time on arguments on miscellaneous applications.”

The Tribunal noted that both sides had assured that they would avoid issuing the offensive advertisements against each other.

In the order last month, the Tribunal directed Taj TV to file their respective replies in petitions nos.319(C) of 2014 and 47(C) of 2014 and asked Hathway to file its rejoinder.

The Tribunal noted that the dispute has arisen at a stage when the earlier fixed fee agreement between the parties has come to end and they are unable to come to agreed terms for a fresh agreement and under the circumstances the MSO has no option but to take the broadcasters’ channels on their RIO terms.

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