Bombay HC asks TRAI if it can defer price cuts by 1 month

Bombay High Court today asked Telecom Regulatory Authority of India if it was willing to postpone the implementation of the amended TV channel pricing regulations by one month.

This follows a change in the bench hearing a petition against the new rules filed by some industry stakeholders, including Indian Broadcasting Foundation.

The judges who have been hearing the matter for the last 6 weeks were changed due to various reasons, including the transfer of the senior judge, and two new judges have started hearing the case.

The new rules were notified by TRAI on January 1, and are supposed to come into effect on March 1.

UPDATE: TRAI has refused the offer and said it wants to implement the amended NTO on March 1 itself. Click here for details.

The broadcasters challenged the rules two weeks after they were notified, and have not yet been able to get a stay on the matter as they did when the first version of the rules were brought out in 2017.

Meanwhile, the new bench has agreed to continue hearing the matter tomorrow, indicating that the court is seized of the urgency of the matter.

Broadcasters today argued that they are not ready for the implementation process and need more time. This was countered by TRAI counsel, who said that broadcasters cannot take advantage of their own delays to push for deferment.

The court has asked TRAI’s lawyers to state the position of the regulator as far as the implementation of the rules from Sunday is concerned.

It is believed that TRAI may give a conditional relaxation to cable and DTH operators as far as the timelines are concerned.

Originally, they were supposed to notify their new plans, packages and rates on January 31. But they have not, hoping that one or the other courts will grant a stay on the tariff order.

However, none of the High Courts have so far granted any stay, and the deadline for the implementation of the new rules is now only three days away.

TRAI is faced with a difficult choice in terms of agreeing to defer the implementation of the rules by a month or not.

On the one hand, if it agrees to defer it by a month, the chances of one or the other court issuing a stay increases exponentially.

On the other hand, if it doesn’t agree to relax its stand, it may come across as inflexible and inconsiderate in front of the court.

As such, the regulator is likely to offer a compromise solution, such as allowing cable and DTH operators to continue to offer their packages and plans, as long as they drop channels priced above Rs 12 per month.

Broadcasters, on the other hand, are hoping that TRAI will express a willingness to defer the implementation of the order — particularly the part where they have to cut the prices of popular channels from Rs 19 to Rs 12 or remove them from packs.

TRAI issued the new directions on New Year’s Day after receiving complaints from consumers about a steep increase in their cable and DTH bills after a botched implementation of a similar law exactly a year ago.