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IBF, DTH ops join as interveners in inflation-linked tariff hike case

MUMBAI: The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), along with direct-to-home (DTH) operators Dish TV, Airtel Digital TV, Reliance Digital TV and Videocon d2h, has joined as interveners in the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI’s) inflation-linked non-addressable tariff hike case, sources said.

The intervenors will have to file their respective affidavits containing additional grounds, if any, within two weeks from today. The tribunal has also extended the time for filing intervention application till 14 July. The matter has been put up for directions on 21 July.

The time allowed to TRAI for filing a comprehensive and consolidated counter affidavit in all the cases has been extended and Saket Singh will have to file the reply to the memos of appeal within one week from the date of receipt of the copy of the last affidavit filed by the intervenors.

While the IBF has unsurprisingly come in support of the non-addressable tariff hike, the DTH operators have challenged the TRAI’s decision expressing concern about the wider implications of the inflationary price.

While a Dish TV official confirmed that it has filed an intervention petition, Airtel Digital TV and Videocon d2h spokespersons could not be reached for a confirmation.

According to a media lawyer, the IBF has not only seconded the tariff hike but has gone further and recommended a modification in the tariff order by seeking a 43.7 per cent hike contending that it is the actual inflation for the period.

The DTH operators, according to the legal head of a leading DTH company, have challenged the hike on multiple grounds.

The DTH operators have argued that the TRAI has proposed the hike to please broadcasters without thinking about the other stakeholders in the value chain.

The TRAI, the legal head stated, did not consult stakeholders before hiking the tariff. The hike was given despite the fact that the addressable system tariff matter is sub judice. The Supreme Court has fixed addressable tariff at 42 per cent of the non-addressable rates.

He also alleged that the regulator deliberately avoided going to the bench that was hearing addressable system tariff case and instead went to some other bench. The second instalment of the tariff hike will come into effect from 1 January 2015, which is when the remaining parts of the country are expected to transition to digital, the legal head pointed out.

The TRAI had on 31 March hiked non-addressable tariff by 27.5 per cent in two instalments.

The first instalment of 15 per cent will be effective from 1 April 2014 which has been incorporated in the Tariff Order. The second instalment for the remaining inflation-linked increase will be made effective from 1 January 2015 through a separate tariff order to be issued subsequently. The hike was for the period from December 2008 to March 2014.

The tariff hike was challenged by the Centre for Transforming India (CTI) and Home Cable Network in Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT). Without giving a stay, the tribunal posted the matter for hearing on 4 August while allowing others interested to intervene in the matter till 4 July.

Last week, more than half a dozen local cable operators’ (LCOs) associations had intervened in the matter by filing applications against the tariff hike in the tribunal.

In the first hearing, the tribunal had directed all stakeholders to keep a separate account with regard to the collections on the basis of the order.

In case the appeals are successful, the individual subscribers making any excess payment in terms of the order will be entitled to adjustments for the succeeding months from the respective LCOs/MSOs, TDSAT had stated.

Similarly, the LCOs will be entitled to adjustments from the MSOs and the LCOs, while the MSOs will be eligible for adjustments from the broadcasters.