TRAI Tells Bombay High Court New Broadcast Sector Tariffs Empower Consumers

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The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Wednesday told the Bombay High Court that its latest amendments to TV broadcast sector tariffs aim to ensure transparency and non-discrimination in channel rates.

The TRAI had earlier this month issued new tariff rules by which prices of the Network Capacity Fee (NCF) were lowered to Rs. 130, benefiting consumers. However, the move was opposed by several broadcasters who claimed the new rules were “unreasonable” and petitioned
the high court.

The TRAI, which also regulates the TV broadcast industry, defended its move in an affidavit filed in the HC, saying it was a consumer-friendly measure. TRAI counsel Venkatesh Dhond told a division bench of Justices S C Dharmadhikari and R I Chagla the authority filed the affidavit in response to a bunch of petitions submitted by television broadcasters against the amendments. The new tariff order (NTO) put a price ceiling on individual channels and also asked the broadcasters to submit to the TRAI their revised tariff structure by January 15.

Several broadcasters like the Indian Broadcasting Foundation, a representative body of TV  broadcasters, the Film and Television Producers Guild of India, Zee Entertainment and Sony Pictures Network India had petitioned the HC. The bench had earlier this month declined to defer the January 15 deadline and directed the TRAI to file its affidavit.

The regulatory authority, in its affidavit, argued the earlier tariff framework was not consumer-friendly.

“The provisions of the previous regulatory framework were being misused by broadcasters and Distribution Platform Operators (DPOs) and the consumer offerings were distorted as the whole pricing structure was irrational and non-transparent for the consumers,” the affidavit said.

It said consumers had raised concerns over lack of freedom to select channels either on a-la-carte basis or on bouquet basis due to exorbitant prices. “The same channels would be offered along with several unwanted channels in a bouquet at extremely low prices. These consumers were indirectly forced to subscribe unwanted channels in the bouquet and the practice of taking channels a-la-carte was discouraged,” the affidavit said. Consumers were taken for a ride by creating mixed packs of free-to-air channels and pay channels in one bouquet which made price comparison difficult, the TRAI affidavit maintained.

“By the new amendments, consumers become the real decision-makers of what they view and have complete freedom to choose and pay only for that,” the regulator said.

The new framework provides safeguards from illusionary pricing, the TRAI said, adding the latest amendments were brought to ensure transparency and non-discrimination in tariffs.

The bench posted the petitions for further hearing on January 30. The broadcasters, in their petitions, said the amended regulations were “arbitrary, unreasonable and violative of their fundamental rights”.

The TRAI”s new tariff rules have lowered NCF prices. Previously, a sum of Rs 130 per month was  applicable for all free-to-air (FTA) channels and consumers needed to pay more in order to watch additional ones.

After the amendments, consumers will pay Rs. 130 as NCF charge, but will be entitled to get 200 channels. Changes were also mandated to be made in the price of individual channels.

The TRAI had mandated all broadcasters to reflect changes made to the price of pay channels for a-la-carte and bouquets by January 15 whereas operators are required to show the updated prices by January 30.

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