AIDCF: Kerala High Court dismisses AIDCF’s petition against TRAI’s NTO 3.0

The Kerala High Court has dismissed the All India Digital Cable Federation’s (AIDCF) writ petition challenging the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) New Tariff Order (NTO) 3.0.

The HC had reserved its judgement on March 7 after hearing from all the parties in the matter, including AIDCF, TRAI, and the Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation (IBDF).

Last month, the AIDCF-aligned MSOs signed interconnection agreements with the broadcasters based on NTO 3.0 after failing to secure interim relief from the HC. The truce was preceded by a week-long standoff between the IBDF and the AIDCF.

Disney Star, Culver Max Entertainment (Sony), and Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL) switched off signals of their channels to the MSOs after the latter refused to sign deals based on the amended regulation. The signal blackout impacted millions of cable TV customers across India.

In January, AIDCF filed a writ petition challenging the amendments notified by the TRAI in November 2022 to its tariff order and interconnection regulations. The federation had also sought a stay on the implementation of the amended tariff order, which came into effect on February 1.

Following the notification of NTO 3.0, the broadcasters hiked the prices of their bouquets for Hindi-speaking markets by roughly 10% and by over 20% in the case of regional channel bouquets.

The AIDCF had contended that the price hike was anywhere from 18% to 35% and would lead to subscriber churn to other services like DTH and OTT.The broadcasters had argued that the price hike is happening after four years and is nominal in nature compared to the inflation growth.

On November 22, the regulator amended the NTO 2.0 by reinstating the old price cap of Rs 19 per channel and doing away with the ‘twin conditions’ in its amended tariff order.

It also mandated that a broadcaster could offer a maximum discount of 45% on pay-channel bouquets over the sum of the MRPs of all the pay channels in that bouquet.

In its petition, the AIDCF had contended that there was no basis to increase the price cap to Rs 19 when the previous price cap of Rs 12 was upheld by the Bombay High Court.

It also argued that a 45% discount cap for broadcaster bouquets had been prescribed without any effective consultation or justification, though the discount on distributor bouquets had been capped at 15%.

The AIDCF said the revised channel and bouquet pricing announced by the broadcasters after the notification of tariff amendments would lead to 20–40% higher prices for subscribers.

The TRAI, on the other hand, argued that the price cap of Rs 19 was upheld by the Supreme Court. It had also contended that the price cap of Rs 12 cannot be considered a basis to assess the price hike as it was never implemented. It was also noted that the industry has been operating under the Rs 19 price cap since 2019.

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