TARIFF ORDER: TRAI sends reminder on Mar 1 deadline to cable/DTH operators, channels

Broadcast regulator TRAI has sent a letter to all broadcasters, cable and DTH firms reminding them to take “preparatory activities” ahead of regulatory and pricing changes from March 1.

From that day, no channel priced above Rs 12 will be allowed to be sold as part of a package.

Cable and DTH firms will also have to offer at least 200 channels as part of the basic tier for a maximum network charge (excluding pay channel charges) of Rs 154, up from 100 at present.

Cable and DTH firms were supposed to publish the new rates and packages on January 31, but did not do so. TRAI’s reminder comes in this context.

“As you are aware, the provisions of the Tariff Amendment Order 2020 are to come into force from 1st March 2020 and several preparatory activities are to be carried out by service providers in a time bound manner.

“This is to ensure that sufficient time is actually available to the consumers to exercise their choice of channels and bouquets before 1st March 2020. Therefore, all service providers concerned may take suitable steps to ensure that the consumers have enough time to make their choices of channels, so that the smooth transition takes place on 1st March 2020,” it said in its reminder today.

It also asked these companies to highlight those plans and packages on their websites that do not conform to the new norms, and therefore will not be available from March 1.

“..to ensure that consumers at large are kept fully appraised, all concerned are required to ensure that information about all such existing bouquets which do not conform to the provisions of Tariff Order 2020 and which shall not be available for the consumers on or after Ist March 2020 may be suitably indicated on their website,” TRAI said.

It is not clear what will happen to some consumers on March 1 when their plans become nonviable or illegal. As far as these consumers are concerned, TRAI has two options.

The first is to ask cable and DTH operators to switch all such consumers to FTA (free channel) packs.

The second option is to allow them to continue on these packs after removing the channels that are priced above Rs 12 per month.

TRAI is expected to issue further directions in this regard in coming days.

What is, however, clear is that most of the popular channels of today are unlikely to figure in any prominent packs or bouquets from March 1. This is because channel owners did not cut their prices from Rs 19 per month to Rs 12, as TRAI expected.

Instead, these channels will have to be now purchased a-la carte or one-by-one from March 1.

“It has also been observed from the information available on the websites of many Broadcasters that most of the existing bouquets of pay channels are not in compliance with the provisions of the Tariff Order 2017 (as amended by the Tariff Amendment Order 2020).

“Similarly, quite a few DPOs have also not published the required information on their website nor composition of new bouquets compliant to Tariff Amendment Order (TAO) dated 1st January 2020 have been published,” TRAI said.