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Delhi HC admits Tata Sky, Airtel Digital TV petitions, directs TRAI to file reply in 6 weeks

MUMBAI:  The Delhi High Court has admitted the petitions of DTH operators Airtel Digital TV and Tata Sky against the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) tariff order and interconnection regulation issued on 3 March.

The HC has issued a notice to TRAI to file its reply in the matter in six weeks. The petitioners can file their rejoinders subsequently.

The matter has been listed for hearing on 25 July following a plea by Airtel Digital TV that the matter be heard before the quality of service (QoS) regulations come into force in August along with tariff order and interconnection regulations.

It must be noted that the commercial contracts will come into force from 1 September.

Tata Sky has challenged the tariff order and interconnection regulation, and Airtel Digital TV has also challenged QoS regulations along with the other two.

The two DTH operators had moved the court contending that TRAI’s tariff order and regulation violates Article 19 (1)(G) of the Constitution, which allows citizens ‘to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business’.

The main argument of the DTH operators is that the tariff order and regulation treats unequals as equals by prescribing the same monthly rentals and discounts for DTH operators and multi-system operators (MSOs).

DTH and cable TV are two different platforms and the former has to invest more in infrastructure and backend. The two are also against regulation of carriage fee and the ‘must carry’ clause.

Both Airtel and Tata Sky have argued that the new regime will seriously impede their right to do mutually negotiated agreements.

Another contention of the DTH operators is that the new regime will completely overhaul the business models of DTH operators even though the overall regulatory framework is running smoothly.

Earlier, the Supreme Court had allowed applications for intervention filed by Star India. The broadcaster had challenged Clause 3 of the tariff order and Clause 7 of the interconnection regulation. The application was filed after Madras High Court declined to stay the tariff order and the regulation.

The bench of Justice Pinaki Chandra Bose and Justice Fali Nariman had passed an order stating that the status quo order already passed by the Madras HC on 23 December 2016 would continue to operate until the matter was finally settled.

Disposing of the petition, the bench said that it did not intend to pass any order on these special leave petitions except requesting the High Court to hear out the matters in question on day-to-day basis and to conclude the same and deliver the judgment, if possible, within a period of one month.

The Madras High Court has fixed Star’s petition challenging TRAI’s jurisdiction to fix tariff for TV content for final hearing on 12 June.

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