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Star challenges TDSAT’s RIO order, Delhi HC reserves judgment

MUMBAI: The legal battle over reference interconnection offer (RIO) is on. Following Star India’s petition challenging the TDSAT order that stated RIO as becoming the starting point for any negotiation, the Delhi High Court has reserved its judgment.

While reserving the order, Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw also requested the Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) to defer the hearing scheduled on 12 January 2016 to a date after three weeks.

The bench heard the counsels of all the parties on the aspect of admissibility particularly relating to the maintainability of the petition in light of the availability of alternative remedy of appeal under Section 18 of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Act, 1997.

Anticipating the move by broadcasters, Noida Software Technology Park Ltd (NSPTL), which was the petitioner in the TDSAT, had filed a caveat in the court. Various other broadcasters have supported Star in the case.

The tribunal had ruled that RIO would form the starting point for any negotiation between broadcasters and distributors of TV channels.

It had also stated that a headend-in-the sky (HITS) operator is akin to a national multi-system operator (MSO) and, therefore, it would be governed by the same commercial terms for an interconnection arrangement as a national MSO.

The tribunal had also stated that RIO must reflect not only the rates of channels but also the different bouquets in which the broadcaster wishes to offer its channels for distribution along with the rates of each of the formation or bouquet.

Furthermore, the tribunal had said that the a la carte and bouquet rates must abide by the ratio mandated in Clause 13.2A.12, which states that the sum of the a la carte rates of the pay channels should not exceed one and a half times the rate of that bouquet and the a la carte rates of each pay channel should in no case exceed three times the average rate of a pay channel of that bouquet.

The tribunal had also said that RIO must clearly spell out any bulk discount schemes or any special schemes based on regional, cultural or linguistics considerations, which would be available on a non-discriminatory basis to all seekers of signals.

The RIO must enumerate all the formats along with their respective prices in which the broadcaster may enter into a negotiated agreement with any distributor, the order had read.

The main implication of the TDSAT judgment is that broadcasters cannot enter into any negotiated deal with any distributors unless the template of the arrangement, along with its price, consistent with the ratio prescribed under Clause 13.2A.12, is mentioned in the RIO.