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Frame a consolidated broadcasting code to replace existing regulations, TDSAT to TRAI

MUMBAI: Even though its previous advice had fallen on deaf ears, the Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has advised the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to frame a consolidated broadcasting code to replace the current maze of regulations that are being amended from time to time.

Pronouncing its verdict in the case involving Noida Software Technology Park Ltd (NSTPL), the tribunal has asked TRAI to get hold of all the negotiated interconnect agreements between the broadcasters and the distributors of channels in order to make a serious effort in that direction.

NSTPL had moved the TDSAT after being denied signals by MediaPro, the distribution JV between Star DEN and Zee Turner. MediaPro has since been disbanded by its principal promoters Star and Zee, who have formed their own distribution teams.

According to the tribunal, the analysis of the commercial terms of the negotiated agreements would give TRAI a clear picture of the market prices of the broadcasters’ channels.

A comparison of the prices in the negotiated agreements and those shown in the current RIOs would then show how far removed the RIOs were from market realities, it noted.

It further stated that TRAI might take a re-look at its tariff orders after examining the negotiated agreements between the broadcasters and the distributors of channels.

The tribunal has also left it open to TRAI to undertake a comprehensive restructuring of the regulations, which it hopes would clarify many of the issues arising in these proceedings.

The tribunal has delayed the operation of its judgment in NSTPL versus Star/Taj case to 1 April 2016, stating that the delayed operation of the judgment is only to afford an opportunity to TRAI to consider the matter and act in the intervening period.

As per the judgment, Star and Taj, along with other interveners, will have to issue fresh RIOs within one month from the date this order becomes operational and effective. Star and Taj must execute fresh interconnect agreements with NSTPL within two weeks from the date of issue of their fresh RIOs.

In case TRAI issues fresh regulations before 1 April 2016, NSTPL and the broadcasters would be obliged to execute agreements on that basis. In case no fresh regulations are issued by TRAI, this judgment and order will come into effect from the previously mentioned date and the parties would be obliged to follow the directions give above.

The amicus curiae and NSTPL counsel pointed out that the positions taken by TRAI in the past had not always been consistent.

In a matter where the regulations have evolved with frequent and successive amendments and in a sector that has undergone some technological change with the shift from analogue to digital, it would be better if the regulator was given an opportunity to consider such issues comprehensively, initiate appropriate consultations and frame a comprehensive code for the broadcasting sector, the tribunal stated.

The tribunal also reminded the TRAI that it had made similar suggestions in the past with the hope of nudging the regulator to take proactive steps to reduce the scope of disputes arising from the regulations.

“At the same time, the fact that regulatory intervention may be the ideal way forward cannot and should not be an excuse for this tribunal to shirk the interpretative issues that have come before us. This is particularly so when there appears to be regulatory inertia,” the TDSAT judgement read.

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