TRAI: broadcasters misuse pricing freedom, push bouquet channels

A la carte prices increased: regulator to HC

Broadcasters have misused the freedom given to them in fixing rates of a la carte channels and bouquets, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) stated in an affidavit filed before the Bombay High Court on Wednesday.

A Division Bench of Justices S.C. Dharmadhikari and R.I. Chagla was hearing a petition filed by the Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF) and others challenging the broadcasting regulations and amended tariff orders by the TRAI. The petition says, “The restriction impinges [on] the fundamental right guaranteed to them under Article 19 (1) (a) [freedom of speech and expression] and 19 (1) (g) [practise any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business] of the Indian Constitution.”

On January 1, 2020, the regulatory authority introduced new rules that reduced the cost of a channel to ₹12 from ₹19 for television broadcasters to include it in their pack. On January 14, the High Court refused to grant ad interim relief to IBF and general entertainment channels that challenged TRAI’s new tariff order.

An affidavit, filed by Surendra Singh, joint adviser (legal) in TRAI, stated: “The subscription of most popular channels on an a la carte basis is less than 10% as compared to bouquet-based subscription. This yet again brings out the impact of artificial disparity created by the broadcasters in a la carte channel and bouquet prices, misusing their freedom to price. On the one hand, the a la carte prices have been increased, but on the other hand, huge discounts on bouquets have been given to ensure consumers choose only bouquets. This clearly works against the interest of consumers as the a la carte choice has been reduced, thereby increasing the effective cost to consumers.”

TRAI’s 114-page affidavit states, “The very purpose of giving choice to consumers and extending a helping hand to facilitate selection of channels through use of bouquets has been completely defeated. TRAI expects that the revised provision will promote the interest of consumers and extend real choices. The provisions are expected to discourage the anti consumer practice of pushing bouquets.”

TRAI further said, “Overall analysis of the present scenario leads to conclusion that the offering of bouquets by broadcasters, as is being done now, was generally depriving consumers of their basic right to choose channels and have been designed to better serve the commercial interest of broadcasters.”

It is reiterated, TRAI is not against offering of bouquets, however, it cannot be at the cost of the freedom of consumers to choose channels in a manner which they may like.

The affidavit mentions, “The regulations and tariff order will provide better choice to consumers and will make broadcasting services affordable for consumers without affecting freedom of broadcasters/distributors to offer their channels in the form of bouquets or an a la carte offering, and to offer discount to the consumers.”

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 1:58:22 AM |

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