SC order on DTH tariff unlikely to impact consumers

The Supreme Court decision to quash the order of the Telecom Tribunal which in turn quashed the a pricing order of the TRAI is unlikely to make much difference to the ordinary consumer.

In July last year, TRAI, the telecom and broadcast regulator, had stipulated that DTH operators need to pay only 35% of what cable operators as per-subscriber fees to channel-owners, raising howls of protests from both cable operators and channel-owners.

The move was seen as a compensatory mechanism to help DTH operators tide over the issue of hiding of subscribers by cable operators.

Since cable operators declared a third of third subscribers, channel owners had, over time, hiked their subscription charges by almost three times to compensate.

However, in a platform like DTH, which is digitalized end-to-end, it is not possible to hide the real subscriber numbers, leading to TRAI’s intervention.

Without the intervention, each DTH customer would end up paying around Rs 1,000 per month as subscription charges for the 150-200 channels that they now get for around Rs 300.

The TRAI intervention, however, was challenged in the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal, which promptly quashed the order.

The Supreme Court on Monday, however, re-instated the TRAI order, but said the payment must be 42% of cable rates, rather than 35%.

However, industry insiders believe the move will have almost no repercussions on DTH industry or consumers. “Most of the DTH operators don’t pay by subscribers at all.. They have all entered into a fixed sum model under which they pay the broadcaster a fixed amount irrespective of the number of subscribers who watch the channel,” pointed out an insider.

There are, however, a few channel-owners, such as the Sun Network, which continues to insist on per-subscriber payment and net outgo to such channel-owners will be higher by a small margin, he added.