TDSAT refuses to intervene in TRAI’s channel pricing rules

Fastway is one of Punjab’s biggest cable networks

Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal, the appellate body for resolving industry disputes in the telecom and broadcasting sector, today refused to expeditiously direct the TRAI to implement the 85:100 rule to bring down the prices of individual television channels.

TDSAT refused an early hearing in a case filed by cable operator Fastway Transmissions, which alleged that the TRAI is failing to follow due process by refusing to implement the 85:100 rule.

The 85:100 rule says that if a channel is priced at Rs 85 inside a pack, then it cannot be priced at more than Rs 100 when sold alone.

The rule was put in place to make sure that channel companies like Sony, Zee and Star did not force consumers to buy their channel packs by making individual channels very expensive.

However, the provision was struck down by the Madras High Court as it found it arbitrary and without justification.

Subsequently, the case reached the Supreme Court of India, which upheld TRAI’s argument in the matter and said that such a provision was justified to protect consumers from “perverse pricing” by broadcasters and distribution platforms.

So saying, the Supreme Court dismissed the original petitions filed against the 85:100 rule.

However, TRAI continues to maintain that the Supreme Court’s judgment is not very clear, and has refused to implement the 85:100 rule.

As a result, a channel that is priced at Rs 85 inside a pack is currently priced in the range of Rs 100-300 when sold by itself.

This has more or less defeated the purpose of TRAI’s tariff order 2017, which was aimed at dismantling channel packs and helping consumers buy channels one by one at affordable rates.

Fastway and other cable and DTH providers have been up in arms against TRAI’s stand, and approached the TDSAT asking it to compel TRAI to implement the 85:100 rule.

Fastway pointed out that when the Supreme Court said it was dismissing the petitions against the 85:100 rule in their entirety, there was no ambiguity that it had upheld the validity of the 85:100 rule.

Putting forth its position in the matter, the TRAI explained to the TDSAT that the very same matter is being agitated in the Delhi High Court by Tata Sky, Airtel Digital and Sun Direct.

At this, the TDSAT said that it was not going to interfere in the process at this stage, given that constitutional courts are seized of the matter. The tribunal denied Fastway’s motion for an early hearing into the matter.

Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court yesterday continued the hearing into the matter and will take up the matter again on Monday. It is expected that if the Delhi High Court directs TRAI to implement the 85:100 rule, prices of popular pay channels will come down from around Rs 22.42 to around Rs 8-9 per month.