SC refuses to stay TDSAT judgement setting aside TRAI’s landing page direction

MUMBAI: The Supreme Court today refused to stay the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal’s (TDSAT) judgement setting aside the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) landing page direction.

The TRAI had filed the petition challenging the TDSAT’s judgement dated 29th May wherein it had set aside the landing page direction while noting that the regulator doesn’t have the powers under the TRAI Act to issue such a direction.

The regulator had sought a stay on the TDSAT judgement. The petition was filed on 11th July and came up for hearing today. Notices have been issued to the respondents.

While admitting the TRAI’s petition, the apex court has listed the matter for hearing on 12th September. The respondents in the matter are Bennett Coleman and Company Ltd (BCCL), Zoom Entertainment Network, All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF) and JPR Channel.

In its petition, the TRAI has contended that the TDSAT’s judgement has erroneously held and decided the two legal issues which have far reachng consequences.

It further stated that the first legal issue is the subject matter of placement of a channel of broadcaster, by the distributor on the landing page of a subscriber is not interconnection and hence beyond the power of TRAI. In other words, as per the impugned judgment, placement is not ‘interconnection’ and hence beyond the purview of TRAI to regulate, the TRAI argued.

The second issue that has arisen due to the TDSAT judgement is that the TRAI does not have the power to issue directions regarding placement of channel and that the same could be done by TRAI, only through regulations.

The TRAI has filed the present appeal on the two primary questions of law, and not on merits.

The TRAI has argued that the TDSAT has failed to appreciate that in a placement agreement or a landing page agreement, the parties enter into a commercial arrangement. The distributor of television channels also agrees to carry out technical changes for that particular channel in its system to be placed in a particular manner.

Such activities ensure that the said channel is provided for the consumption of the end-subscriber in that particular manner which has been agreed upon.

It also contended that the TDSAT failed to appreciate that the Interconnection Regulations, 2017, which exhaustively defines ‘interconnection’, provides that, ‘interconnection’ means commercial and technical arrangements under which service providers connect their equipments and networks to provide broadcasting services to the subscribers.

It follows as a logical corollary that, placements agreements and landing page agreements involve ‘interconnection’ and they are ‘interconnection agreements’.

The TRAI had on 3rd December 2018 directed all broadcasters and distributors ofthe TV channel to refrain from placing any registered TV channel whose rating is being measured on the landing page or the boot-up screen with immediate effect.

The authority had said that the direction has to be implemented in all cases by 31st March 2019. However, in the case of previously entered agreements, efforts may be made to implement these directions as soon as possible.

It had also stated that the information of such pre-existing agreements with full details of the parties to the agreement, the territory, agreement period and other relevant details may be submitted to the authority within seven days from the date of issuance of this direction.

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