IBF evaluating legal options against TRAI’s amendments to new regulatory framework

MUMBAI: The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) has said that it is evaluating legal options against the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) decision to amend the new tariff order (NTO) and interconnection regulations.

“IBF is disappointed at the lack of understanding shown by the regulator. It will strategise its future course of action, including evaluating legal options, based on feedback from its member channels and networks,” the apex body of pay-tv broadcasters said in a statement.

On 1st January 2020, the TRAI notified the amended NTO and interconnection regulations. As part of its amendments to the new regulatory framework, the TRAI has decided to put a cap on the a-la-carte price of channels as well as place reasonable restrictions on the formation of bouquets.

The authority has also decided that only those channels which are having MRP of Rs. 12 or less will be permitted to be part of the bouquet offered by broadcasters. The regulator has also mandated distribution platforms to provide 200 channels for network capacity fee (NCF) of Rs 130. The 200 channels don’t include mandatory DD channels.

IBF termed the changes as “totally arbitrary”. It also bemoaned the imposition of twin conditions for bouquet formation which will effectively introduce a cap on bouquet pricing which was left untouched in the NTO.

“Coming barely a few months after TRAI notified the NTO effecting a disruptive change of the distribution ecosystem, these amendments will severely impair broadcasters’ ability to compete with other unregulated platforms and adversely affect the viability of the pay-TV industry,” the IBF stated.

The IBF pointed out that over-regulation, inconsistency and frequent changes in the regulations have already cost the broadcast sector 10-12 million pay-TV subscribers in 2019. “These amendments will compound the problem further,” it stated.

The IBF noted that in the last 15 years of regulating the broadcast sector, the TRAI has issued more than 36 tariff orders and ancillary regulations in an attempt to micro-manage what is arguably the cheapest form of news and entertainment in the world.

“This goes contrary to the Government’s stated position of ensuring the “ease of doing business”. While TRAI claims the amendments are in the consumers’ interest, it appears to have conveniently forsworn the interest of broadcasters. This change will only benefit the DPO’s as they have been allowed to charge as much as ₹160 for the channels that are supposed to be ‘FREE’,” it added.