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Home Cable approaches TRAI alleging violations in Star India’s RIO offer

In its letter, the MSO accuses TRAI of keeping silent on the issue of pay TV channels for which MRP is being shown on various illegal/non-permitted OTT IPTV platforms

With Star India publishing its Reference Interconnect Offer (RIO) on November 6, leading MSO Home Cable Network has written to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, alleging violations of the TRAI-prescribed and notified regulation(s) by the broadcaster.

The broadcaster published its RIO offer after the Supreme Court dismissed its petition challenging TRAI’s tariff order and interconnection regulation that prevents broadcasting companies from mixing free-to-air channels with pay channel in bouquets.

Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services (Eighth) (Addressable Systems) Tariff Order, 2017 published by TRAI on March 3, 2017 in the Gazette of India, Extraordinary, Part III, Section 4 clearly stipulates:

“...(3) It shall be permissible for a broadcaster to offer its pay channels in the form of bouquet(s) and declare the maximum retail price(s), per month, of such bouquet(s) payable by a subscriber:

  • Provided that, while making a bouquet of pay channels, it shall be permissible for a broadcaster to combine pay channels of its subsidiary company or holding company or subsidiary company of the holding company, which has obtained, in its name, the downlinking permission for its television channels, from the Central Government, after written authorisation by them, and declare maximum retail price, per month, for such bouquet of pay channels payable by a subscriber:
  • Provided that such bouquet shall not contain any pay channel for which maximum retail price per month is more than rupees nineteen:
  • Provided further that the maximum retail price per month of such bouquet of pay channels shall not be less than eighty-five % of the sum of maximum retail prices per month of the a-la-carte pay channels forming part of that bouquet:
  • Provided further that the maximum retail price per month of such bouquet of pay channels shall be uniform for all distribution platforms:”

In a letter written to the authority, the MSO argued that:

  1. If the base pack of Star SD Bouquet (1 Hindi Base) of the RIO as published on 06.11.2018 is priced Rs 49, that is if considered as 85% the total à la carte price of the (13) pay TV channels forming the bouquet, then the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) of Bouquet (in INR) per Subscriber per month shouldn't exceed Rs 57.
  2. Similarly, if the premium pack of Star SD Bouquet (2 Hindi Premium) of the RIO as published on 06.11.2018 is priced Rs 79 if considered as 85% the total à la carte pricing of the (20) pay TV channels forming the said bouquet then the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) of Bouquet (in INR) per Subscriber per month shouldn't exceed Rs 93.
  3. Likewise all the declared / published Bouquets / packages and their compositions w.r.t to the declared MRP of the total à la carte price of the pay TV channels forming the bouquets, are deliberately in violation of the TRAI prescribed and notified (Eighth) (Addressable Systems) Tariff Order, 2017, including HD base pack and HD premium pack of the RIO as published by M/s. Star India Pvt. Ltd. In reference to The Explanatory Memorandum para 65 and an example 1 that contains and explains the objects and reasons of this (Eighth) (Addressable Systems) Tariff Order, 2017.

Based on these arguments, Home Cable wrote, “These aforesaid clear violations and acts of defiance pinpointed in the RIO document finally published by Star India on 06.11.2018 ought to be timely put to scrutiny and questioned by the ‘Authority’ where the said pay TV broadcaster be reprimanded and warned for its continued violative conduct and fraudulent practices being adopted in order to deceive the Authority, the concerned Ministry, DPOs and the Consumers of television services at large.”

In its letter, the MSO has also accused TRAI of keeping silent on the issue of pay TV channels for which MRP has now been declared, being shown on various illegal/non-permitted OTT IPTV platforms i.e. HotStar, Sony Liv, Zee5 and Voot. It said they do not have any permission granted by the Central Government to provide IPTV or OTT IPTV services and they are also not registered as DPO by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

The MSO argued, “Whereas these TRAI regulations of 2017 are having the following definition(s) for the Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) service, MRP, DPO, television channel and Pay Channel covered under the aforesaid regulations, that are applicable to broadcasting services relating to television provided to subscribers, through addressable systems, throughout the territory of India where every broadcaster shall offer all its channels on a-la-carte basis to all distributors of television channels.:-

(o) “distributor of television channels” or “distributor” means any DTH operator, multisystem operator, HITS operator or IPTV operator;

(t) “internet protocol television operator or IPTV operator" means a person permitted by the Central Government to provide IPTV service;

(u) “internet protocol television service or IPTV service" means delivery of multichannel television programmes in addressable mode by using Internet Protocol over a closed network of one or more service providers;

(w) “maximum retail price” or “MRP” for the purpose of this Order, means the maximum price, excluding taxes, payable by a subscriber, for a-la-carte pay channel or bouquet of pay channels, as the case may be;

(zh) “television channel” means a channel, which has been granted downlinking permission by the Central Government under the policy guidelines issued or amended by it from time to time and reference to the term “channel” shall be construed as a reference to “television channel”.

(za) “pay channel” means a channel which is declared as such by the broadcaster and for which broadcaster’s share of maximum retail price is to be paid to the broadcaster by the distributor of television channels and for which due authorization needs to be obtained from the broadcaster for distribution of such channel to subscribers.”

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