Delhi HC stays TDSAT order asking broadcasters to provide OTT content information

Trai claims that broadcasters are supplying linear channel signals to OTT platforms.

Mumbai: The Delhi High Court has stayed Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) order and the proceedings until the next date of hearing. TDSAT issued an order last week requiring broadcasters to provide information on content available on over-the-top (OTT) platforms.

In past legal processes, Trai has publicly indicated that it does not regulate OTT platforms or the content that is associated with them.

"Prima facie, the court finds itself unable to sustain the order of 20 September by TDSAT," said the order dated 28 September by Delhi HC.

According to the High Court, the TDSAT was not authorised to make the 'contested decision' while the main dispute over whether it had the authority to issue the 'contested direction' was still being resolved.

A source informes that the court judge made oral remarks saying “what kind of order is this? Later he also said (in a lighter vein) there seem to be lofty principles in the order.”

Broadcasters are allegedly breaking Clause 5.6 of the TV channel uplinking and downlinking guidelines by providing linear channel signals to OTT services, claimed Trai.  

This clause requires broadcasters to make satellite TV signals available to registered cable operators, multi-system operators, direct-to-home players, and internet protocol TV service providers.

As the clause reads, "The applicant company shall provide satellite TV channel signal reception decoders only to MSOs/cable operators registered under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 or to a DTH operator registered under the DTH guidelines issued by the government of India or to an Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) service provider duly permitted under their existing telecom licence or authorised by the department of telecommunications or to a HITS operator duly permitted under the policy guidelines for HITS operators issued by the ministry of information and broadcasting to provide such service."

While OTT services are exempt from Trai oversight, broadcasters contend that Clause 5.6 has not been violated. They claim that both platforms controlled by broadcast networks and those owned by independent players are covered by this.

Broadcasters including Sony, Star, and Sun TV had approached TDSAT to challenge Trai's directive. The networks, on the other hand, had received no relief from the appellate tribunal, with TDSAT ordering them to provide the information to Trai within a week.

The Court also questioned Trai's authority to control OTT and make the requests for information that they did. In past legal proceedings, Trai has publicly indicated that it does not regulate OTT platforms or the content that is associated with them.

When Trai requested certain broadcasters (such as Star India, Sony, and Sun TV) to submit detailed information on the content of TV channels that were available on OTT, the problem began.

Dissatisfied broadcasters challenged Trai's decision, which ordered the disclosure of information and architecture in TDSAT, among other things, by questioning Trai's authority to request such information.

Notably, the broadcasters asserted that Trai has always maintained in court proceedings that it does not regulate over-the-top (OTT) content.

The TDSAT had previously provided broadcasters with ad-interim protection against Trai coercion. However, it later directed broadcasters to provide information, which resulted in the current petition before the Delhi High Court.

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