TRAI caps cable bill at Rs 130 for 100 FTA channels

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MUMBAI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has on Friday notified its tariff order for the broadcasting sector, which will cap the monthly cable bill of television households at Rs 130 (plus taxes) for the first 100 free-to-air (FTA) channels. Beyond that, the channels will be available in slabs of 25 and an amount of Rs 20 will be charged per slab. The 100 SD channels will include channels to be mandatorily provided to subscribers as notified by the central government.

The Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services (Eight) (Addressable systems) Tariff Order, 2017, was notified by the sector regulator after it received a go ahead from the Supreme Court.

In the new tariff order, TRAI has given complete flexibility to the broadcasters to declare maximum retail price of their pay channels to subscribers with “no restrictions” as long as such channels are provided to consumers individually and not as part of the bouquet. If a pay channel is provided as part of a bouquet, MRP of such pay channel cannot be more than Rs 19.

TRAI said, this is to ensure protection of interests of consumers as bouquet deals are oblique to individual channel prices. “While framing this tariff order, the emphasis of the Authority has been to ensure transparency, non-discrimination, consumer protection and create an enabling environment for orderly growth of the sector,” TRAI said.

The new framework, it said, attempts to address all the issues raised by broadcasters, distributors of television channels and subscribers.

TRAI said that in order to provide choice to the subscribers and to curb skewed prices of a-la-carte channels as compared to bouquets, it has mandated that a broadcaster can offer a maximum discount of 15% while offering its bouquet of pay channels over the sum of MRPs of all the of pay channels in that bouquet.

The restriction of maximum discount of 15% on formation of bouquet is to ensure that a subscriber is not forced to take a channel which he doesn’t want, TRAI clarified.

Also, platforms will have to offer separate bouquet for pay channels and FTA channels and charges payable by a subscriber for distribution network capacity and channels have been separated.

As per the tariff order, every distributor of television channels will have to offer all channels available on its network to all subscribers on a-la-carte basis. The distributors will also have to declare distributor retail price of each pay channel and bouquet of pay channels payable by a subscriber. This will allow subscribers to choose a-la-carte channels of its choice.

Distributors are also permitted to form bouquets from a-la-carte pay channels and bouquet of pay channels of broadcasters. However, distributor retail price of such bouquets of pay channels shall not be less than 85% of the sum of distributor retail prices of the a-la-carte pay channels and bouquets of pay channels of broadcasters forming part of that bouquet.

TRAI has also maintained that a subscriber has to pay separate charges, other than the network capacity fee, for subscribing to pay channels or bouquet of pay channels.

Distributors of television channels have to offer at least one bouquet, referred to as basic service tier, of 100 FTA channels including all the mandatorily channels to be provided to the subscribers as notified by the Central Government. This bouquet will be one of the options available for subscription to customers. It will be the subscriber who will be free to exercise his option.

Any bouquet formed either by the broadcaster or by the distributor of television channels cannot contain both HD and SD variants of the same channel.

Once notified, the tariff order can be implemented within 30 days. However, during this time, anyone including Star India can challenge the same before any High Court. Star India, which had earlier filed a petition against TRAI’s tariff order in the Madras High Court (the case is sub-judice), has the alternative of amending its writ petition pending before the court or file a fresh one, which would include challenges on the merits of the Tariff Orders and Regulations as well.