TRAI directs Tata Sky to issue refunds to its subscribers for removal of Sony channels in 2018

MUMBAI: In a major setback for Tata Sky, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has directed the direct to home (DTH) operator to provide a refund to all the subscribers who were affected during its tiff with Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) over the renewal of content deal.

The DTH operator has to issue refunds for the period from 1st October 2018 to 5th December 2018, for which the payment was taken from the subscribers.

TRAI has also directed Tata Sky to submit a list of subscribers, to whom refund has been made along with the amount of such refund. Further, the DTH operator has been asked to deposit any amount that could not be refunded to the subscribers into the Telecommunication Consumers Education and Protection Fund (TCEPF).

The DTH operator has to furnish a compliance report of this direction to the authority within 21 days from the date of issuance of this direction.

The direction to Tata Sky has been issued under section 13, read with sub-clause (v) of clause (b) of subsection (1) of section 11, of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997, to ensure compliance to Direct to Home Broadcasting Services (Standards of Quality of Service and Redressal of Grievances) Regulations, 2007 (08 of 2007).

The TRAI stated that regulations 9A of DTH QoS Regulations 2007 states that “no direct to home operator shall change the composition of a subscription package which has been subscribed to by a subscriber, so as to discontinue exhibition of any particular channel in that subscription package”.

Further, if any particular channel included in a subscription package which has been subscribed to by a direct to home subscriber subsequently becomes unavailable on the platform, the DTH operator will have to reduce the subscription charges for such subscription package on a proportionate basis from the date of discontinuance of the channel till the expiry of a period of six months from the date of enrolment of that subscriber, or till the expiry of the contracted period of subscription for which the amount of subscription has been paid in advance or in installments as per offer of the DTH operator, whichever is later.

The regulation also states that instead of proportionately reducing the subscription charges for such a subscription package on account of the non-availability of such a channel, the DTH operator may, at its discretion, introduce in such a subscription package another channel of the same genre and language as the channel which has so become unavailable.

Further, the DTH operator will also have to give an option to each one of its subscribers, who have subscribed to such subscription package, an option to choose from the modified subscription package with charges reduced on proportionate basis and the modified subscription package with the removed channel replaced by another channel of the same genre and language

The subscriber will be free to exercise the option for the period from the date of discontinuance of the channel till the expiry of a period of six months from the date of enrolment of that subscriber, or till the expiry of the contracted period of subscription for which the amount of subscription has been paid in advance or in installments as per offer of the direct to home operator, whichever is later.

The authority had issued a direction to Tata Sky dated 8th July 2019 wherein the DTH operator was required to submit the information on the following issues:-

(a) confirm whether the choice was given to the consumer to choose between the proportionate refund and alternate channels;
(b) provide the details of the communication made to subscribers for providing choice to the consumers regarding the refund or refund policy;
(c) credit the refunds to the subscribers who were not given an option to choose between the proportionate refund and alternate channels, if any;
(d) provide a list of consumers with amount of the refund credited to the consumers for the period of discontinuance of the channels;
(e) provide the list of churned out subscribers who were to be refunded for the period of discontinuance of the channels along with the details of the amount to be refunded to such subscribers;
(f) provide a copy of the Interconnect Agreement of Tata Sky Ltd. with Sony Picture Private Limited which is in force as on date.

Tata Sky in response to the authority’s direction submitted that the refund was made to all those subscribers who came through the TRAI portal and who approached Tata Sky.

The authority on examination of the response submitted by Tata Sky observed that it has failed to address the matter in the true spirit of the regulatory provisions and explain the reasons for non-compliance of the DTH QoS Regulations 2007.

In October 2018, Tata Sky had removed SPNI’s channels from its platform due to the non-renewal of agreement. Ending almost two months of deadlock, both the parties had reached an agreement in December 2018.

In its reply to TRAI dated 14th January 2019, Tata Sky had stated that it has signed a content deal with SPNI for a fixed amount of Rs. 985 crore for a three-year term with an additional payout of up to 25% of the fixed deal basis viewership.

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