The Kerala HC in the case of All India Digital Cable Federation & Anr. v. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India & Anr., dismissed the plea filed by All India Digital Cable Federation ( AIDCF) which challenged the new order passed by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). The new order consists of increased channel prices for cable TV operators for inclusion in the bouquets from INR 12 to INR 19 per channel.
Background of the matter –
The Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services Interconnection (Addressable Systems) (Fourth Amendment) Regulations, 2022 (the ‘interconnect Amendment Regulations, 2022’), and the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services (Eighth) (Addressable Systems) Tariff (Third Amendment) Order (the ‘Tariff Amendment Order, 2022) were the Tariff Orders that were challenged by the AIDCF. They were challenged on the ground that the said orders were ultra vires of the provisions of the TRAI Act, 1997, and violative of Articles 14 and 19 (1)(g) of the Constitution of India.
The Petitioer ‘s Contention was –
- The petitioner pointed out that under the 2017 regulatory framework of TRAI, broadcasters were allowed to fix the MRP of a pay channel for consumers. Under the Regulations, every broadcaster was required to declare the uniform MRP of its pay channels on an a-la-carte basis. Every broadcaster was required to enter into written interconnection agreements based on the Reference Interconnection Offer (RIO) published by it for providing signals of pay channels to a distributor of television channels
- The petitioner contended two consultation papers were issued with the “purported objective of overhauling the system once again”. Thereafter, the 2020 Regulations and Tariff Order were issued, under which TRAI stated that channels priced more than INR 12/- shall not be allowed to be included in a bouquet channel. When this was challenged before the Bombay High Court, the Court upheld the order but struck down the 15% ceiling imposed on the discount rate to broadcasters as arbitrary.
- The petitioners argued that the increase in the maximum cap of bouquet channels to INR 19/- was disadvantageous to the distributors. “The broadcasters have priced in such a way that consumers prefer to opt for a bouquet instead of opting for a high-priced popular channel on an a-la-carte basis, thereby rendering a-la-carte choice of consumer meaningless.
The Court observed –
- The court observed, ” After going through the generations on the consultation papers and the Regulations and the Tariff Order, I am of the considered opinion that the petitioners have failed to establish any arbitrariness or illegality or any other legal infirmities on the part of the authority in exercising the powers conferred under the Act, 1997.”
- The court further observed that it was while the 2017 Regulations and the Tariff Order were in force, that the 2020 Regulations were introduced with a maximum price cap of Rs.12 for the driver channel and discount rates for bouquets, but the same was never put into force, and the 2017 Regulations and Tariff Order were still in force.
- The court held, ” The petitioners are, in no way, affected by the pricing of the driver channel and the fixation of the bouquet price by the authority, because it is for the end users to pay the charges so fixed by the authority. The broadcasters as well as the other intermediaries are entitled to get their due share fixed by the authority concerned, and therefore, it can never be said that the petitioners are aggrieved by the 2022 Regulations and the Tariff Order. I am also of the opinion that the petitioners are even stopped from raising a challenge on the pricing, because it was existing since the year 2017 and continuously thereafter for multiple reasons specified above, without any objection from any of the stakeholders, much less the petitioners. Above all, it is significant to note that none of the end users have challenged the amendments in 2022. The Regulations and the Tariff Orders are made by the authority protect the regulated-tec interest and regulate controlling the telecommunication services for the public good.”
Thus in the light of above observations-
The court dismissed the petition while stating that petitioners have failed to establish any illegality, arbitrariness, unbridled exercise of power, malafide or any other legal infirmities of similar nature.