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TDSAT allows Fastway to supply signals only in digital mode even in non-DAS areas

MUMBAI: The Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has allowed multi-system operator (MSO) Fastway Transmission to provide signals only in digital mode to all local cable operators (LCOs) even in areas that are yet to come under digital addressable system (DAS) regime.

The tribunal dismissed Malwa Cable Operator Sangarsh Committee’s petition against Fastway for refusing to provide signals in analogue mode in areas that are yet to come under DAS regime.

The tribunal passed the judgment based on its previous order that had allowed implementing voluntary digitisation before the mandatory date.

Fastway had taken a decision that it would transmit signals only in encrypted digital addressable mode as per its rate card, which is how it is supplying signals to other LCOs in the state.

The LCOs affiliated to Malwa Cable Operator Sangarsh Committee, however, insisted on continuing with transmission in analogue mode, as the areas where they operate are yet to come under DAS. The LCOs operate in Talwandi Sabo, Cot Shamir, Cot Fatah and other rural areas of Punjab.

The tribunal stated that as long as the distributor does not supply signals to anyone except in digital mode, the principle of ‘must provide’ cannot be invoked to compel it to supply signals to anyone in analogue mode.

It further stated that a distributor must supply signals to the LCO seeking signals from it in the same mode and on the same terms and at the same rate at which it might be giving its signals to another LCO, comparable to the one seeking the signals.

The LCOs were getting 92 channels from the MSO for re-transmission in analogue mode on the payment of a lump-sum amount (fixed fee) as the monthly subscription fee. Around June, July, August 2014, the respondent started giving them set-top boxes (STBs) for seeding at the subscribers’ places.

At that time, it only charged Rs 35 per month as the rental of the STB in addition to the fixed-fee payable each month. The MSO started demanding higher amounts for each STB.

The committee stated that its member LCOs operate in villages and their subscribers are poor rural people who simply cannot pay the charges as demanded by the respondent.

On the allegation that the MSO has set up a dummy operator to supply signals in the area of operation of the petitioner LCOs in analogue mode and at much cheaper rates, the tribunal said that the report of the team of pleader commissioners, however, does not support the allegation.

The charge of non-discrimination thus does not stand against the MSO, it stated.

It also noted that the predicament of the petitioner LCOs is not due to any lacuna in the law, but because there is no one other than the respondent to whom these LCOs may go for supply of signals. How and why such a situation has arisen is a question for the regulator to address, it stated.