New tariff rates: No Bombay High Court relief for TV broadcasters

Mumbai: In a setback for television channels, the Bombay High Court has refused to grant any interim relief to broadcasters who have challenged the new tariff rates introduced by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

This would mean that the broadcasters will now have to submit their revised rates by January 15, the deadline earlier set by TRAI.

A bench of Justices Satyaranjan Dharmadhikari and Riyaz Chagla also ordered the TRAI to file a detailed affidavit in response to the petitions filed by various broadcasters, including the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), Sony Pictures Network India, The Film and Television Producers Guild of India and Zee Entertainment Ltd.

The broadcasters have claimed that the amendments made by the TRAI in the sector tariff rates were “arbitrary, unreasonable and violative of their fundamental rights”.

Countering the argument, senior counsel Venkatesh Dhond informed the bench that the broadcasters only have to submit the revised rate card by January 15 and that the actual enforcement of the rates would be from March 1, 2020.

“These amendments are brought for the benefit of the consumers. The regulations were modified after we (TRAI) received thousands of complaints that channels were overpriced,” Dhond submitted.

Having heard the contentions, Justice Dharmadhikari refused to pass any ad-interim orders granting relief. The court also adjourned the matter for further hearing till January 22.

After the TRAI introduced the new tariff rules in December 2019, the network capacity fee (NCF) was lowered for the benefit of consumers. Now, consumers will only have to pay Rs 130 as NCF charge and get nearly 200 channels. The amendments also propose modifications in the rates of individual channels. Before, consumers had to pay Rs 130 for all free-to-air channels and extra for additional channels.

Opposing these new rules, the broadcasters have argued that since there is a huge difference in the choices and preferences of consumers, there are chances that not all would want a similar package. They have further claimed that if enforced, the amended rates would compel channels to shut down, which would be a direct infringement upon their fundamental right to business.

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