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TRAI vs DTH operators: Delhi High Court adjourns tariff order matter to 15 May

TRAI had partly argued during the last hearing on 2 May

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MUMBAI: The Delhi High Court on Thursday adjourned the hearing of the petition of top DTH operators Tata Sky, Airtel Digital TV, Sun Direct and broadcaster Discovery India Communication challenging Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and its new tariff regime, to 15 May. According to a source close to the development, the bench did not function as the chief justice was on leave.

During the last hearing on 2 May, the sector regulator argued for about an hour. Arjun Natarajan argued in the absnece of Rakesh Dwivedi for a very short whie, with the latter then taking over. Dwivedi will take four more sessions to argue.

Before that, the last two hearings held on 11 April and 25 April were adjourned without any significant development.

In the beginning of April, Discovery India concluded its arguments. The matter is being heard by Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice V Kameswar Rao.

Notably, the extended deadline for consumer migration under the new regime expired on 31 March. While TRAI has repeatedly said most consumers have moved to the new regulatory framework, with a reduction in cable bills, several reports have claimed otherwise. In last two weeks, TRAI also sent directives to several distribution platform operators across the country for not complying with tariff order rules properly.

Earlier in February, the regulatory body extended the deadline to pick channels under the new regime till 31 March as well as gave a directive of Best Fit Plans. The subscribers that don’t opt for new channels would be moved to ‘Best Fit Plans’, which would be developed as per usage pattern, language and channel popularity, the sector regulator said in its statement.

Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Rajendra Menon on 13 February questioned TRAI for altering the implementation process of its new tariff regime without informing the court. The chairperson of the sector regulator had also been directed to file an affidavit within a week explaining these changes.

While the regulatory body has continuously declined that cable bills would go up under the new regime, several reports, as well as surveys, have indicated the hike in the monthly bill. Due to the change in pricing, many experts predicted that consumers would shift to OTT platforms eventually. To decrease the churn rate, some of the DTH players have removed network capacity fee for long duration packs.

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.

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