Tata Sky vs. TRAI: Case, argued partly by DTH operator, adjourned to 23 January

Tata Sky argued tariff regime flawed & TRAI attempting to micro-manage business

MUMBAI: DTH operator Tata Sky’s ongoing court battle with the TRAI and its new tariff regime, in which Bharti Telemedia-owned Airtel Digital TV and Sun Direct are a part, has been adjourned by the Delhi High Court to January 23 with arguments being inconclusive.

The matter was argued partly by senior lawyer Kapil Sibal on behalf of the direct-to-home operator on Tuesday who focussed on two points of 15 per cent discount cover (or the lack of it) and micromanagement attempt by TRAI of how business should be conducted.

The hearing in the case started at around 2:45 pm and continued till almost 90 minutes during which Sibal argued that with the Madras HC setting aside the 15 per cent discount cap, the main aim of the tariff order had been frustrated and that attempt to micromanage a business, especially moves relating to pricing, etc., some of the provisions of the regulation were not in the interest of the DTH operator, which follows a different cost model compared to MSOs.

The TRAI counsel’s interjection, according to industry sources, was minimal except seeking some technical clarifications relating to issues being argued by the Tata Sky lawyer and the actual content of the writ petition.

Though this essentially means the regulator is unlikely to take any coercive action against the DTH operator and Discovery (that has already published new rates in compliance with the TRAI tariff order) until the next hearing, during the 10 January 2019 hearing of the case the court had verbally observed that Tata Sky could remain non-compliant at its own peril.

At the earlier hearing Sibal had impressed upon the judges to ask TRAI to produce all documents on how it arrived at the decision to implement the new tariff regime. He had also stated that implementing the present order will have an adverse impact on business.

The TRAI lawyer had countered saying while Tata Sky felt aggrieved, a big DTH operator like Dish TV and all other MSOs seemed satisfied and had complied with the new tariff framework.

The court had then asked the regulator to file the documents and the data that was the basis for arriving at the new tariff regime.

Tata Sky is unlikely to upload its RIO for now, unlike Discovery, which has already published the same on its website, under protest.

In 2017, Bharti Telemedia, Tata Sky and Discovery Communication India had filed petitions against TRAI, challenging its tariff order and the interconnect regulations.

Unlike the position adopted by Star India wherein it questioned the regulatory powers of TRAI, the matter in the Delhi HC questions the regulator’s power to wipe out deals that operators enter into to fix commissions and rates for customers.

While the Delhi HC case outcome could have implications on Tata Sky, Sun Direct, other distribution platform operators (DPOs) continue to be bound by the tariff order and most of them have complied too.

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