Kerala High Court okays TRAI tariff in interim order

In what has to come as a major disappointment to big cable operators in the country, the Kerala High Court has given an interim green signal for TRAI to apply nearly all the provisions of the tariff order as it continues to hear the case.

Earlier, it had asked TRAI not to take any punitive action against the members of All India Digital Cable Federation — including major players like Hathway, GTPL, Asianet, Fastway, Kerala Vision, Siti Cable, Indian Cable, UCN and In Digital — for not implementing certain crucial bits of the new TRAI order.

Under this interim protection, these cable operators have not implemented most of the provisions of the new TRAI tariff order.

The provisions not yet implemented by most of these cable TV networks include the reduction of network capacity fee — especially for multiple connections, increase in the number of channels to be provided to consumers under the first tier from 70 to 200.

They have also not implemented certain crucial provisions related to carriage fee.

Today the Kerala High Court single judge asked AIDCF to file representation before TRAI pointing out objections to amendments.

A proper consultative process from TRAI shall follow this step, the court ordered.

Till then impugned provisions except the provisions relating to the freezing of placement of channels in perpetuity shall be permitted to be operated, it said.

The TRAI has, in its revised tariff order, drastically reduced the carriage fee that cable operators or MSOs can charge from small and regional broadcasters to just Rs 4 lakh per month.

Earlier, cable and DTH operators could demand tens of lakhs of rupees from a channel in exchange for carrying these channels on their networks.

This led to several complaints from small broadcasters, who pointed out that they could not afford to pay so much money to each and every big cable and DTH player.

TRAI, therefore, capped the amount at Rs 4 lakh per channel after going through the actual costs incurred by cable and DTH players in carrying one channel. This angered big cable and DTH operators, who approached the courts.

Even as the court allowed TRAI to impose the new rules on AIDCF members via an interim order, it did ask the regulator to not press ahead with the implementation of a small clause regarding re-arrangement of channel number of a channel.

That provision, however, is unlikely to have a major impact on either the broadcasters or the consumers.

With today’s order, TRAI has jumped over yet another hurdle in implementing its new tariff order.

Now, cable operators too shall offer 200 channels for Rs 154, instead of 70 channels of consumers’ choice.

The only remaining provision yet to be implemented by DTH and cable TV operators is with regard to the inclusion of expensive channels in packages and bouquets.

While TRAI’s new rules make it illegal for cable and DTH operators to offer any channel priced above Rs 12 as part of any package or plan, nearly all cable and DTH operators continue to offer such channels as part of various packs and plans.

TRAI has maintained an uncharacteristic silence on this violation. It is expected that TRAI is waiting for the Bombay High Court to pronounce its verdict on a case filed by channel owners that challenges the above rule.

The Bombay High Court is expected to pronounce its verdict on the above matter this week.