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Hotels and restaurants move SC against TDSAT judgment on commercial subs

MUMBAI: The Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI) has filed an appeal against the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal’s (TDSAT) order that set aside Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) 2014 tariff order on commercial subscribers.

Filed in the Supreme Court on 4 April,  the appeal is expected to come up for hearing either next week or the week after that. The apex court has not yet assigned a formal number to the case.

In its appeal, the FHRAI contended that there was no reason for the tariff order to be set aside. FHRAI is the apex body of all hotels and restaurant associations in the country.

FHRAI member Hotel & Restaurant Association (Western India) secretary Pradeep Shetty said that the TDSAT, on the one hand, had asked TRAI to conduct fresh exercise for preparing tariff order. On the other hand, it had observed that commercial and residential subscribers could not be the same, which would tie the hands of the regulator to conduct a free and fair exercise.

He also said that the FHRAI had challenged the setting aside of Clause 3 of the tariff order on the ground that it completely failed the test of workability provision.

The clause was introduced for the protection and enforcement of copyrights, requiring a commercial subscriber who might charge the viewers separately for showing any television programme within his premises to enter into an agreement with the broadcaster at mutually agreed charges.

Shetty also said that the premise that commercial subscribers should have a different tariff than residential subscribers is unsound as the content is the same. The cost of supplying that content is also the same.

The tribunal had last month set aside TRAI’s tariff order for commercial subscribers, noting that the reasons given by the broadcast sector regulator for putting the entire body of commercial subscribers on a par with ordinary subscribers are unacceptable.

As per the tariff order, broadcasters cannot provide their channels directly to commercial establishments and have to do it through a distribution platform.

It also stated that commercial establishments must be treated as normal (household) subscribers if they are providing television as an amenity (at no extra charge) to their guests/clients and that only when commercial subscribers charge their guests/clients for TV separately can there be a different tariff mutually agreed upon.

While setting aside the amended tariff order, the TDSAT had asked the authority to undertake a fresh exercise on a completely clean slate and issue fresh tariff orders within six months.

It had also asked TRAI to put aside the earlier debates based on which it had been making amendments to the three principal tariff orders none of which has so far passed judicial scrutiny.

The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) had challenged TRAI’s tariff order for commercial subscribers in August, contending that commercial subscribers could not be equated with residential subscribers.

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