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TDSAT involves TRAI in NSTPL matter

MUMBAI: With broadcasters Star India and Taj Television guarding the commercial details of their interconnection arrangements, the Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has decided to involve the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in the matter.

The other party in the case, pitted against Star and Taj, is headend-in-the-sky (HITS) operator Noida Software Technology Park Ltd (NSTPL).

TDSAT has sent copies of the orders dated 18 December 2015, 29 January 2016, and 9 February 2016.

On 18 December 2015, the tribunal had directed Star and Taj to submit the details of their interconnection arrangements with three pan-India MSOs, namely DEN, Hathway and Siti, in order to give an interim direction in terms of which NSTPL should make payments to the two broadcasters until the matter reached finality.

In subsequent hearings, Star and Taj had said that they would provide signals to NSTPL without any payments on interim basis and until their dues were finally determined once the matter attained finality in terms of the tribunal’s judgment or fresh regulations, if any, framed by TRAI.

“We feel that this aspect of the matter is also quite relevant to be brought to the notice of TRAI which, we are informed, is engaged in framing fresh regulations on interconnections,” the tribunal said in an order on 16 February.

It also noted that the counsel representing TRAI had, in the course of hearing in another matter involving the same parties, had submitted before the tribunal that non-discrimination is the essence of interconnection regulations.

“We fail to see how non-discrimination can be made effective while the broadcasters so rigidly guard the commercial details of their interconnection arrangements with other distributors of signals,” the tribunal said.

Objecting to the stand taken by the two broadcasters, NSTPL counsel Vivek Chib had submitted that both Star and Taj should be made to comply with the direction given on 18 December 2015 and that, based on all the materials produced by them, the tribunal should make an interim arrangement for the petitioner to make regular monthly payments to the two broadcasters.

Chib submitted that the NSTPL’s claim against Star that it was entitled to the latter’s incentive package still remained pending adjudication in Broadcasting Petition no. 314 of 2015. In case it is found and held that it is in fact entitled to the incentive package, it would be the petitioner that would be entitled to recover a substantial amount from the broadcasters and not the other way round.

He further submitted that apart from Broadcasting Petition no. 526 of 2014, there were two other petitions nos. 313 of 2015 and 314 of 2015. In those two petitions, the NSTPL has challenged a circular letter of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) that allows the broadcaster/agents of broadcasters to give signals free of cost for a period of six months.

He also submitted that leaving the matter unsettled at this stage and not fixing any interim amount as monthly subscription payable by the petitioner to the two broadcasters would be quite prejudicial to the petitioner in its commercial operations.

However, the tribunal rejected the objections raised by Chib stating that these are misconceived and unacceptable. The present proceedings are an outcome of the concluding observations and directions made in the tribunal’s judgment dated 7 December 2015 by which Broadcasting Petition no.526 of 2014 was finally disposed of.

In that order, the tribunal had proposed to make an interim arrangement for the protection of the interests of the two broadcasters/agents of broadcasters so that they might not be forced to provide signals to the petitioner for a period of several months without any payment to them.

As regards the NSTPL’s apprehension that part of its claims against the broadcasters relating to application of the incentive package in the case of Star or the claim of parity with other distributors in regard to both Star and Taj would not be addressed even if TRAI comes with fresh interconnection regulations, the tribunal said that the three petitions in which these claims are raised remain pending before the tribunal.

“We are, thus, unable to see how the petitioner may suffer by not making a direction for any ad hoc or interim payment by it to the respondent broadcasters until the matter is settled in terms of the TDSAT judgment or in terms of the fresh regulations framed by TRAI,” the tribunal said.

The tribunal has put up the matter under the same head on 8 March with the directions to the respondents to file their respective replies in Broadcasting Petition nos. 313 & 314 of 2015 within two weeks.

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