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Star, Uttarakhand MSO in TDSAT row

MUMBAI: Taking note of non-compliance of its order, the Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has issued a notice to broadcaster Star India asking why proceeding for contempt may not be initiated against it.

The tribunal in its order dated 18 August had directed Star to execute an interconnect agreement with Uttarakhand multi-system operator (MSO) Rudhrapur Cable Network (RCN) within one week.

Disposing of RCN’s petition, the tribunal had said that the decoder boxes would be issued simultaneously to the MSO for all the channels following the execution of the agreement.

The areas under the interconnect agreement would be the same as the areas of another MSO Satellite TV Network (STN), the tribunal had said in its order.

Star India counsel Arjun Natarajan accepted notice on behalf of the broadcaster. Show-cause, if any, may be filed within one week. The matter has been put up under the same heading on 7 October.

It is pertinent to note that RCN was taking signals from STN for further distribution until 2013. However, it later started operating as an independent operator and is currently distributing only free-to-air channels apart from few pay channels.

It came to the tribunal seeking a direction to Star India for supply of its signals for retransmission in the areas of Rudrapur, Gadarpur, Kichha and Rural.

The areas under question are in the digital addressable system (DAS) Phase III, which means these are currently in the analogue mode and due to come under the DAS regime after 31 December.

Star first declined to give signals to RCN on the ground that STN had objected to any supply of signals as it owed a large sum of money.

At that stage, STN was also impleaded as one of the respondents in this proceeding. It is represented by Vikram Singh. According to STN, it has dues of Rs 10.21 lakh (Rs 1.2 million) against the MSO. Rudhrapur Cable, however, disputed STN’s claim.

RCN’s counsel Vineet Bhagat filed an affidavit stating that the MSO would deposit the sum of Rs 10.21 lakh (Rs 1.2 million) before the tribunal so that it may decide to give to any of the parties subject to the proper adjudication over the claim of STN.

The tribunal gave STN an option to file a recovery petition within two months, failing which the amount will be refunded to the petitioner. In case a recovery petition is filed on behalf of STN, the amount will depend upon the final result of the petition.

RCN later filed the subscriber line report (SLR) giving details of 229 along with their addresses. However, Star had taken a strong objection to the SLR submitted by the MSO, stating that it was incorrect and the number of subscribers was unduly low.

The tribunal then appointed Deenadayalan as an advocate commissioner for making the survey of the area. Deenadayalan visited RCN’s subscribers and his survey justified Star’s objection.

In his report, Deenadayalan stated that RCN has laid down the optical fibre in the entire sub-division of Rudrapur, Gadarpur, Kichha and 19 surrounding villages around Gadarpur and, in all likelihood, the number of its subscribers would increase.

He also opined that within six months of getting all channels of the popular broadcaster, RCN would be able to get 50 per cent of the subscriber base of the existing MSO, namely STN, or 1/3 of the subscribers of STN within three months from getting the channels of all the popular broadcasters.

The tribunal had mentioned that STN, which had been operating in the same area for a long time, had an interconnect agreement with Star under which it pays Rs 5,22,000 (excluding taxes) as monthly subscription to Star.

Nothing that the areas where RCN is operating are due to come under the DAS regime from 1 January 2016, the tribunal had said that any arrangement between two sides would be for a period of about four and a half months.

The tribunal had suggested that the parties should enter into an agreement at the rate of Rs 1,75,000 (exclusive of taxes) per month, which could be 33 per cent of the subscription fee paid by STN based on the opinion of the advocate commissioner that in three months RCN would be able to match its subscriber to the extent of one-third of the existing MSO.

After some discussion, both sides had accepted the suggestion made by the tribunal and agreed to execute an interconnect agreement at that rate.

Expressing reservations, Star India counsel Rajsekhar Rao had stated that Star did not know whether the petitioner was a transient operator or it might leave the market after upsetting it.

He also stated that though currently the date for migration to the DAS regime for the areas in question is fixed as 1 January, the date might postpone as it happened earlier.

In order to allay the apprehension of Star, RCN had given an undertaking to continue in business not only for the period, but also after it came under the DAS regime.

As regards the migration to DAS regime, the tribunal had made it clear that the arrangement to which the parties had agreed would be for the period up to 31 December.

After that date, the areas in question would come under DAS regime and that monthly subscription would be charged based on data generated by CAS and SMS, the tribunal had said in its order.

In case the migration to DAS regime is postponed for any reason, Star would be free to renegotiate the rate of the monthly fee and to move the tribunal.