The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has sent out a letter to the ministry of information and broadcasting (I&B), questioning its jurisdiction to impose "processing" charges on broadcasters without asking for Trai's recommendations.
The I&B ministry had issued a circular last December asking national TV channels for Rs 100,000 and regional broadcasters for Rs 50,000 every time they asked for permission to temporary uplink a live event, change their channel name or logo or their satellite amongst others. Trai, in its letter, has said the order passed by the I&B ministry should have been avoided, as any change of the permission fee amount would alter the terms of the licence. Also, for such a change, the regulator's recommendations are mandatory under the provisions of the TRAI Act.
It has drawn the attention of the ministry to Section (11)(1)(a)(ii) of the TRAI Act which says not withstanding anything contained in the Indian Telegraph Act 1885, the functions of the authority shall be to-make recommendations, either suo motu, or on request from the licensor, on terms and conditions of licence to a service provider.
The imposition of the licence fee is being seen as a setback for the broadcasting industry, especially to sports channels which beam many live programmes. Sports broadcasters have argued that such a policy goes against the government's 'Khelo India' campaign. A senior executive of a broadcasting company asked, "while you might say cricket live programmers can pay this fee as they make money, what about others like the Commonwealth Games which doesn't generate big advertising revenues?''
The new processing charges come at a time when the regulator has floated a consultation paper on issues relating to policy guidelines for uplinking and downlinking of TV channels in India. It sought comments from stakeholders and conducted an open house last month. It was in this meeting that some stakeholders brought up the matter.
Trai and the Competition Commission of India are slugging it out in the Supreme Court on jurisdiction linked to anti-competition rules.