Madras High Court Dismisses Plea Against Trai Regulations for Cable TV Services

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The Madras High Court on Tuesday dismissed a petition challenging the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's (Trai) March 2017 regulations and tariff order relating to fixation of charges for free and pay television channels. A division bench comprising justices S Manikumar and Subramonium Prasad also upheld the January 31 deadline fixed by the Trai for the implementation of the order. Quoting a Supreme Court verdict, the bench said the Trai's jurisdiction was not only confined to regulating the operations but also extended to laying terms and conditions for providing services and dismissed the public interest litigation (PIL) filed by V Rama Rao.

The January 31 deadline was fixed by the Trai by invoking its powers under section 36 of the Trai Act and taking into consideration all facts and circumstances.

"It cannot be said that Trai has been acting hastily or implementing its directions in a hurried manner, without taking into account the interest of all the participants. It is not for this court to interfere with the deadline unless it shows that such a decision is completely perverse," the bench ruled, as reported by PTI.

Referring to the Supreme Court order in BSNL vs Trai and others, it said the apex court had held that the Trai exercised a broad jurisdiction. "Its jurisdiction is not only fixed to regulating operations, but also extends to laying terms and conditions for providing services. They can fix norms and the mode and the manner in which consumers would get services," the bench said.

The Trai, in March 2017, had notified the new regulatory framework for broadcasting and cable services and had re-notified it on July 3, 2018, prescribing the implementation schedule. According to the framework, consumers can choose the channels they want and have "direct control" on their monthly bill for television services.

The Supreme Court had, on October 30 last, dismissed a plea challenging the new regulations. Originally, the Trai had set December 29 last year as the deadline but had subsequently extended it till January 31.

The petitioner contended that the analogue system of transmitting signals was in vogue in Tamil Nadu from 1990 and the process of digitalisation had not been completed in the state. As against the 1.11 crore TV viewers in the state, only 46 lakh households had set-top boxes that enabled digital reception. If the impugned regulations were implemented, a substantial number of consumers would be left out, it was argued.

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