Bombay high court questions TRAI on twin conditions, DPO bouquets

The TRAI counsel has asked for time; the next hearing is scheduled for 8 October.

KOLKATA: Within a very short span of the new tariff order (NTO) implementation, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issued a set of amendments at the beginning of 2020. These have been challenged legally by the major broadcasters, and the litigation is still in progress.

In an interesting twist, at today's hearing yesterday, the bench at Bombay High Court has questioned the relevance of a few important clauses of the regulation.

The division bench of the Bombay high court comprising Justice AA Sayed and Justice Anuja Prabhu Desai asked whether the twin conditions were placed by TRAI for consultation. The industry regulator had introduced this clause citing “manipulation” of consumer choice by broadcasters.

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“The sum of the a-la-carte rates of the pay channels (MRP) forming part of a bouquet shall in no case exceed one and half times the rate of the bouquet of which such pay channels are a part. The a-la-carte rates of each pay channel (MRP),forming part of a bouquet, shall in no case exceed three times the average rate of a pay channel of the bouquet of which such pay channel is a part,” TRAI said along with introducing the Rs 12 cap for introducing a channel in a bouquet.

TRAI has been upholding (amended tariff order) NTO 2.0 for bringing rationality between a-la-carte price and the bouquet price. But several reports have indicated that consumers opted for the distribution platform operator (DPO)-designed bouquets post NTO 1.0.

Considerably, the bench also mentioned that more than 90 per cent bouquets in the market are DPO bouquets which do not appear to be under the same restrictions as the broadcaster’s bouquets. The bench asked TRAI's counsel to explain how and whether DPO bouquets are bound by restrictions as compared to the broadcasters.

Giving an example of NTO 1.0 which was implemented without the discount cap on the formation of a bouquet by the broadcasters, the bench asked whether NTO 2.0 could be implemented without some of the provisions.

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The counsel appearing for TRAI has sought time to respond till the next date of hearing, 8 October.

 It is expected that counsels for the union of India and TRAI will complete their arguments during the next hearing. However, keeping in mind the rejoinder to be made by the broadcasters, the first half of Friday has been kept as reserve time.

Over the past couple of years, the industry has been overburdened by regulations. According to a FICCI -EY report, NTO 1.0 reduced the number of TV subscribers by 26 million. While broadcasters are reeling from the Covid2019 impact, it is of serious concern how another change will impact the industry. 

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