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IBF to intervene in TRAI's SC petition on 15% discount cap

TRAI's SC petition on discounts cap likely to be heard early 2019

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MUMBAI: The TRAI tariff order, which remained a topic of intense debate and discussion in 2017 and 2018, is likely to dominate discourse early on in 2019 too, at least from a legal standpoint as the Supreme Court resumes work after the winter vacations.

A source close to the development has told Indiantelevision.com that the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) is set to intervene in the matter --- a special leave petition (SLP) filed by the regulator seeking clarifications on 15 per cent discount cap --- when it gets listed.

All parties, including Star India, which were part of the Madras High Court proceedings, are involved in TRAI’s petition on the issue of 15 per cent cap on discount on a bouquet price or a la carte price of TV channels to consumers.

The IBF was not originally a party, but an intervener. Hence it wasn’t incumbent upon the TRAI to make it a party in the fresh SLP. However, the IBF will now implead itself in the petition.

Currently, the tariff order and regulations are getting implemented without the 15 per cent cap as confusion prevails over its validity, though a section of the industry is of the opinion that the Madras High Court had struck down the discount cap issue. TRAI had not issued any clarification on this while setting a roadmap earlier this year for the new tariff regime’s implementation after the Madras HC order.

On Monday, Star India’s MD Sanjay Gupta during a media roundtable, responding to a question from Indiantelevision.com on the broadcaster’s position on the 15 per cent discount cap said, “It is up to the court to decide that. Now, as an SLP is in the SC…the courts will decide. I don’t have a view beyond that. In the current ruling, there is no discount cap. It may change going forward depending on the SC ruling.”

Gupta, however, was confident in adapting to a new pricing structure should the SC uphold the high court’s view on the 15 per cent cap.

“In case the court has a new ruling that discounts have changed, pricing [too] needs to change, both a-la-carte and bouquet pricing in that case, because the distance between them has to be only 15 per cent. I think we are still awaiting the court’s decision and if we need to adapt to it, then we’ll adapt to it. But there will be a shift again in pricing if that comes through,” he added.

TRAI’s petition demands that the SC set aside the portion of the high court judgment that frowns on the 15 per cent cap on discounts on bouquet prices of TV channels.   

The Madras High Court, while upholding most of the TRAI tariff order --- issued middle of 2016 and challenged by Star India and Vijay TV later that year on grounds of overstepping of jurisdiction --- had struck down as arbitrary almost 18 months later the 15 per cent cap on bouquet prices.

With the case finally disposed of by the Supreme Court earlier this year, upholding the high court’s views, TRAI had issued a notification stating that India’s broadcast and cable industry stakeholders implement its tariff regime in phases and report on compliance.

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