Supreme Court grants stay on TRAI’s new tariff order

NEW DELHI: Much to the relief of Star India, the Supreme Court has stayed the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) tariff order and interconnection regulation till the Madras High Court decides on the broadcaster’s petition challenging the regulator’s powers to fix tariff for TV content.

The apex court has also directed the Madras High Court to conclude the matter in one month. The matter will come up for hearing in the Madras High Court on 12 June.

The bench of Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman stayed the tariff order and interconnection regulation after the TRAI counsel submitted that the new regime will come into effect from 1 September.

Represented by senior counsels P Chidambaram, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Amit Sibal, Star argued that the new tariff order will unsettle the existing system. Once it is implemented, it will be difficult to go back to the old system in case the Madras High Court decides in the broadcaster’s favour.

The broadcaster also argued that the matter got delayed at Madras High Court due to recusal of judges, something which is beyond its control. It also submitted that there is no hurry to implement the tariff order and the regulations now since it intends to officially get activated from 1 September.

Interestingly, even before the matter came up before the SC bench, Star, which had sought from TRAI a grace period of 10 days to file their Reference Interconnect Offer (RIO), published the maximum retail price (MRP) of its channels on its website.

Star was the last among the leading networks to publish its RIO. TV18, Viacom18, ZEE, Sony Pictures Networks India, Sun TV Network and Disney India had published their respective RIOs before Star.

Industry sources told TelevisionPost.com that the new RIOs are not final and are subject to change, depending on the Supreme Court case. As per TRAI regulation, the broadcasters can change their RIO after giving a month’s time.

According to the TRAI’s new tariff order, the agreements between broadcasters and distribution platforms have to be signed by 1 June.

Earlier, the Madras High Court had dismissed Star and Vijay TV’s petition seeking a stay on the tariff order and regulation till the completion of the jurisdiction appeal. This prompted Star to move the apex court.

TRAI notified the tariff order and interconnection regulation on 3 March following a go-ahead from the Supreme Court. The SC had also stated that the Madras HC can continue to hear the issue of jurisdiction.

While retaining most of the recommendations, the TRAI had removed the genre-wise price ceiling. The authority also said that any channel that is priced above Rs 19 cannot be part of the bouquet.

In December 2016, Star and Vijay Television challenged TRAI’s jurisdiction to fix the price of content. The Madras HC ordered TRAI to maintain status quo.

Irked by the order, TRAI filed an SLP in the Supreme Court, which allowed the regulator to frame regulations with the condition that the same be placed before the apex court before being notified.