A federation of major multi-system operators in the country on Monday told the Kerala High Court that the blocking of signals or feed to them by broadcasters led to around 5 crore consumers suffering a blackout on their TVs during the last weekend.
The federation, AIDCF, urged the high court to protect it and its consumers from such actions by the broadcasters, like Star, Sony and Zee, till its plea challenging telecom regulator TRAI’s amended interconnect regulations and tariff order of 2022 was decided.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF), argued before Justice Shaji P Chaly that the earlier regulations and tariff order of 2020 was extended by TRAI till February 2023.
“So what was the tearing hurry to implement the 2022 regime when the matter was coming up for hearing today?” he contended.
He further argued that the broadcasters had threatened AIDCF’s members with blocking of signals over the weekend — from February 17-20 — if they did not pay up according to the 2022 regime.
Under the 2020 regime, the price of the “driver” channel in a bouquet was capped at Rs 12, but under the latest tariff order it has been increased to Rs 19, Singhvi said.
However, as the 2020 regime was extended by TRAI till February 2023, major broadcasters were pressurising it to implement the new regime by threatening to increase channel prices beyond Rs 20, the senior lawyer argued.
“TRAI should not have come under pressure of the big players and implemented the new regime,” Singhvi contended and urged the court to protect the members of AIDCF during pendency of the petition.
The arguments in the matter remained inconclusive and are scheduled to continue tomorrow.
The multi-system operators (MSOs), represented by the AIDCF and the Kerala Communicators Cable Ltd, have contended in their plea that TRAI’s amended interconnect regulations and tariff order of November last year were “arbitrary” and “take away from the consumer their choice and autonomy”.
The petitioners have claimed that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has ‘failed’ to regulate the pricing of television channels or cap their prices.
Instead, it increased the pricing of television channels that can be included in a bouquet, they have contended.
AIDCF is India’s apex body for Digital Multi System Operators (MSOs) and its members include Asianet Satellite Communications, Hathway Cable and Den Networks, according to the petition.
Kerala Communicators Cable Ltd is also a member of AIDCF, according to the plea.
“An analysis of the packs announced after the impugned 2022 tariff amendment which are yet to be implemented or passed onto consumers demonstrates that consumers will need to pay between 20-40 per cent higher prices on regularly subscribed channels,” they have claimed.
TRAI, on the other hand, has opposed the plea saying the 2022 regulation and tariff order were applicable to broadcasters, distributors of TV channels and local cable operators.
It has contended that the federation has not shown how it was affected by the regulation or tariff order and therefore, it had no locus standi to challenge them.
The regulator has also claimed that AIDCF had consented to the price cap of Rs 19 per channel.