TDSAT dismisses LCO petition, asks TRAI why there is only one MSO in Malway in Punjab

New Delhi: Even as it dismissed a petition by Malwa Cable Operators seeking cable TV signals, the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to ‘ponder over and address’ why there were no other multisystem operators in the area.

It said the rejection of the petition by the Malwa Cable Operators Sangarsh Committee seeking signals from Fastway Transmission Pvt. Ltd was ‘not due to any lacuna in the law’.

“It is because there is no one other than the respondent to whom these LCOs may go for supply of signals. How and why such a situation has arisen is a question for the regulator to ponder over and to address,” chairman Aftab Alam and members Kuldip Singh and B B Srivastava said in their judgment yesterday.

They said: “On a careful consideration of the submissions made before us, we come to the conclusion that no reliefs can be granted to the petitioner by the Tribunal”.

Apart from relying on its own previous judgments, the Tribunal noted that the MSO had made clear that it was not supplying signals in analogue mode to any LCO in the State of Punjab and that it was willing to supply signals to the petitioner LCOs “as per its rate card on the basis of which alone it is supplying signals to other LCOs in the state.”

The Tribunal also took note of an earlier allegation by the LCOs that Fastway had set up a dummy operator which was supplying signals in the area of operation of the petitioner LCOs in analogue mode and on much cheaper rates.

Referring to arguments raised by lawyers from both sides on the must provide and non-discrimination clauses, the Tribunal said: “In our view, the two principles of ‘must provide’ and ‘on-discrimination’ as the basis of interconnection cannot operate separately but are inseparable. All that those principles mean is that a distributor cannot refuse to supply signals to a LCO and it must supply signals to the LCO seeking signals from it in the same mode and on the same terms and at the same rate at which it might be giving its signals to another LCO, comparable to the one seeking the signals. As long as the distributor does not supply signals to anyone except in DAS mode, the principle of “must provide” cannot be invoked to compel it to supply signals to anyone in analogue mode”.

Counsel Abhishek Malhotra had during arguments referred to clause 3 of the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable Services) Interconnection Regulations 2004 and submitted that the scheme of interconnection envisaged by the regulations was based on the twin principles of ‘must provide’ and ‘non-discrimination’. He submitted that as one of the principles of interconnection was ‘must provide’ the respondent was obliged to supply signals to the petitioner LCOs and they would be free to retransmit the signals in their area of operation in analogue mode as that area was yet to come under the DAS regime.

The Tribunal noted that it was on a consideration of the recommendations made by TRAI that the Central Government issued the notification dated 11 November 2011 (later amended on 11 September 2014) introducing digitisation of cable TV systems in four phases over a period of four and a half years. “As noted above, the language of the notification is such that it would be unlawful to make transmission in analogue mode in any part of the country that has come under the DAS regime as per the schedule given in the notification. But it is not unlawful to make transmission through digital addressable system in any part of the country that is yet to come under the DAS regime”, the Tribunal said.

Referring to arguments by Fastway counsel Naveen Chawla, the Tribunal said there was nothing to show that Fastway had committed any breach of any regulations or tariff orders framed by TRAI in either making the packages of channels or in fixing the rates of those packages. Moreover, the language of the notification issued under Section 4A of the CTN(R) Act and the relevant provisions of TRAI regulation is quite plain and to give them any other meaning on the plea of hardship caused to the LCOs would be doing violence to the plain language of the notification and the regulations.

LCO counsel Vineet Bhagat had submitted that the scheme of digitisation was a phased scheme and it would be unreasonable and unjust to thrust upon the poor LCOs the digital addressable system of transmission even before the date of its enforcement under the Government notification.

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