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Taj TV asked to provide signals to Fastway in Karnal; MSO to pay Rs 1.7 mn as monthly fee

MUMBAI: The Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has asked Taj Television to supply its signals to Fastway in Karnal, Haryana, by 3 February as an interim arrangement to avoid loss of market share for the MSO.

The tribunal has also asked Fastway to pay monthly subscription fee at the rate of Rs 17 lakh (Rs 1.7 million) to Taj for receiving the signals. The payment for the first month in advance should be deposited in the tribunal by 3 February.

It also clarified that the supply of signals by virtue of this direction shall not create any equity in favour of Fastway.

It also said that in case Fastway’s petitions are dismissed, the supply of signals by Taj Television may come to a sudden end without any notice and that the MSO alone will be responsible for any monetary claims raised by any LCOs or subscriber or any civil or criminal liability.

Even while the tribunal proceeds to consider the rival cases of the parties on their merit, it is made clear that the pendency of the petitions before the tribunal shall not, in any manner, come in the way of any other authority or court having jurisdiction to proceed in the matter.

Fastway had approached the tribunal seeking a direction to Taj Television for re-transmission in Karnal. Earlier, Indiverse Broadband, a third MSO operating from Karnal, had filed its petition seeking a directive to Taj Television to agree to a substantial reduction in its subscriber base. Its plea was that the unauthorised entry of Fastway and Siti Cable in Karnal had greatly affected its subscriber base.

Taj resisted the demands of its channels by Fastway primarily on the allegation that the latter is engaged in rampant piracy of its signals in Karnal. Making the same allegation, Indiverse also stated that its subscriber base has eroded due to the unauthorised entry of Fastway and Siti Cable and rampant piracy by the two MSOs. It alleged that 90 to 95 per cent of its network has been taken over by Fastway and Siti Cable.

The tribunal said that the main issue concerning the cases is the issue of piracy of TV channels. It also noted that in case it is established that an MSO is engaged in unauthorised transmission of channels on a large scale and in an organised manner over a long period of time, what its liability would be and what remedies would be available to the broadcaster whose channels are re-transmitted without legal sanction.

Even though Clause 3.2 of the Interconnect Regulations 2004 expressly mentions ‘default in payment’ as the ground for denial of signals, the question that needs to be examined is whether an MSO indulging in large-scale organised piracy over a long period would still be entitled to the supply of signals. The ancillary question is what remedies are available to the broadcaster and the other MSOs suffering losses due to the piracy.

In order to expedite the disposal of the cases, all sides agree that the recording of the cross-examinations of the witnesses may be assigned to an advocate-commissioner to be appointed by the tribunal. The parties also agree on the name of Mansoor Ali Shoket as the advocate-commissioner to record the cross-examinations of witnesses of all the three sides.

With the consent of all involved parties, the tribunal has laid down the following schedule for further proceedings in these cases:

(i) The cases will be listed on 2 February 2015 for framing of issues. On that day, the counsel for all the parties shall jointly submit an agreed list of issues. In case there are issues on which the parties do not agree, the decision will be taken by the tribunal.

(ii) All three sides shall file their respective evidence affidavits by 10 February 2015.

(iii) Fastway shall then produce its witness(es) for cross-examination before Shoket on 12 February 2015.

(iv) After the cross-examination of Fastway’s witness(es), cross-examination of the Indiverse witness(es) will take place, followed by the cross-examination of Taj Television witness(s).

(v) The advocate-commissioner and all sides shall ensure that cross-examination of all the witnesses is over by 5 March 2015.

Shoket will be paid an honorarium of Rs 7,500 per day. The payment for the days on which the cross-examination of any party takes place will be made by that party.

The cases have been listed for hearing on 19 March.