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TRAI Amends Broadcasting and Cable Services Framework

Recently, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) unveiled significant amendments to the regulatory framework for broadcasting and cable services, alongside recommendations for upgrading the DD Free Dish platform.

The amendments, notified on July 8, 2024, have been made to the framework which comprises:

  • Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services (Eighth) (Addressable Systems) Tariff Order, 2017 (“Tariff Order, 2017”);
  • Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services Interconnection (Addressable Systems) Regulations, 2017 (“Interconnection Regulations, 2017”); and
  • Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services Standards of Quality of Service and Consumer Protection (Addressable Systems) Regulations, 2017 (“QoS Regulations, 2017”).

Notably, distribution platform operators have been permitted to offer a maximum of 45% discount, as opposed to the earlier 15% discount ceiling, on the total prices of a-la-carte channels when assembling their own bouquets, with a view to ensuring a level playing field. This has been effected through an amendment to the second proviso to clause 4(4) of the Tariff Order, 2017. The amendment will enable flexibility for distribution platform operators in forming bouquets to cater to subscribers’ choices.

The Tariff Order, 2017, initially prescribed that while forming bouquet of pay channels, a broadcaster or a distribution platform operator could offer a maximum discount of 15% on the sum of the MRPs/ DRPs of all the pay channels in that bouquet. However, the capping of the price of bouquets by broadcasters at 85% of the sum of a-la-carte prices of the pay channels in the bouquet was declared arbitrary and unenforceable by the Madras High Court. Thereafter, the condition specifying a discount of 33% for broadcasters, brought in by the 2020 amendment, could not be implemented pursuant to a decision of the Bombay High Court. Vide the 2022 amendment, a maximum discount of 45% was then permitted to broadcasters. All this time, there has been no change in the discount of 15% permitted to distribution platform operators while forming bouquets, with distribution platform operators seeking parity with broadcasters. Hence, the Authority decided to extend the provision to distribution platform operators as well.

Other key amendments include the elimination of the distinction between HD and SD channels for the purpose of carriage fee under the Interconnection Regulations, 2017, the removal of ceiling for charges for services such as installation and activation, visiting, relocation and temporary suspension, which have now been kept under forbearance, under the QoS Regulations, 2017, etc.

TRAI’s recommendations, which were also released on Monday, inter alia provide a roadmap for the upgradation of the DD Free Dish platform to an addressable system. This upgrade seeks to enhance viewer experience, curb piracy, and facilitate the maintenance of records of DD Free Dish subscribers.