TDSAT sends team to Punjab to ascertain alleged links between Fastway & Apna Cable

NEW DELHI: A team of three Advocate Commissioners has been appointed by the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) to go to Talwandi Sabo in Punjab to examine allegations as to whether Fastway Transmission Pvt. Ltd is using an entity by the name of Apna Cable to transmit signals in the area of the Malwa Cable Operator Sangarsh Committee.

The allegation by the 12 cable operators, who are members of the Committee, is that Apna Cable is transmitting signals in analogue mode and is operating in digital mode.

The team will also examine whether Apna Cable has its own head-end and cable network or if it is using the “leased lines” taken from Fastway or is otherwise using the network, systems or equipment of Fastway. It will also look into whether Apna Cable is engaged in laying down any cables in that area and being helped by Fastway in doing so.

The commissioners will also find out all the channels that Apna Cable is giving to its subscribers and which of those channels are being received from Fastway and which channels it is getting directly from different broadcasters on the basis of agreements with them. 

The commissioners will also find out by engaging with subscribers of both Apna Cable and the petitioner LCOs the amounts of monthly subscription fee they are charging from their respective subscribers and whether Apna Cable has issued pamphlets or it is making any public announcements that the subscribers should take the Fastway channels from Apna Cable at much lower rates than those realised by the petitioner LCOs.

The Advocate Commissioners - Nasir Husain, Vibhav Srivastava and Ravi S S Chauhan – have been asked to go to the area by the end of this week and the matter has been listed for 23 November.

TDSAT chairman Justice Aftab Alam and members Kuldip Singh and B B Srivastava also directed that Apna Cable be issued notice and added to the list of respondents.

The Tribunal noted that there appeared to be “some seriously disputed facts on the ground.”

In pursuance of the previous order passed on 14 October, Deenadayalan had been appointed as the Advocate Commission but could not proceed beyond Bhatinda becase of serious social disturbance and was advised to come back. 

Fastway counsel Navin Chawla denied the allegations about Apna Cable and said there was no link between his client and the LCO.

The petitioners alleged that Apna Cable is only a front name and the entire work of cable-laying is being done at the instance of and using the resources of Fastway. It is alleged that Apna Cables is receiving signals from Fastway and re-transmitting those signals in the petitioners’ area of operation in analogue mode. It is further alleged that Apna Cable is issuing pamphlets and making public announcements that the subscribers should take their signals from Apna Cable as it would give them Fastway signals at a much cheaper rate. According to the petitioners, Apna Cable is an entity simply set up by Fastway as a ploy to drive them out of business.

According to Chawla, Apna Cable had its own independent head-end and it has interconnect agreements with a few broadcasters whose signals it might be transmitting on the basis of the agreements with them. But during arguments, he said a little later that Fastway has given leased lines to Apna Cable and it might also be giving some local free-to-air channels like the live telecast from the Golden Temple to Apna Cable. The Tribunal noted that “admittedly Fastway is not giving any of its local free-to-air channels, like the live telecast from the Golden Temple to any of the LCOs represented in this petition."

The Commissioners will first try to find out if the supply of signals to the 12 LCOs (whose description is given in the affidavit filed on 14.09.2015) was disrupted for several days in the middle of October 2015. For this purpose, the team of Commissioners may examine the networks of the petitioner LCOs as also the local system of the respondent. They may also interview and engage with the subscribers of the 12 LCOs to find out whether or not they were receiving signals through the petitioner’s network during the past month or even now.

Each member of the Advocate Commissioners’ team will be paid, apart from actual expenses, honorarium at the rate of Rs 20,000 per day. The payment will be made by the two sides in the ratio of 75 per cent by the respondent and 25 per cent by the petitioners. 

The Tribunal rejected objections by Chawla to the respective shares and insists that the payment must be made in equal shares.

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