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The Telecom Dispute Settlement And Appellate Tribunal says that OTT platforms are not TV channels, not under TRAI’s jurisdiction

TDSAT, in its ruling, said it did not believe AIDCF would face any ‘irreparable loss’ if Star Sports is not restrained from offering its content via Disney+Hotstar.

“Prima Facie, [an] OTT platform is not a TV channel, covered by TRAI 2(r) of the regulations, 2017,”The Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) concluded in its judgment on the petition of All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF) against Star India Pvt Limited. In this case, (filed last month)  AIDCF argued that Star India is charging them for their channel whereas is allowing the download of its own over-the-top (OTT) application and permitting customers to view Star Sports free of charge. This, it says, is in violation of Regulation 3(2) of the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services Interconnection (Addressable Systems) Regulations, 2017.

TDSAT says that looking at the provisions of the IT Act and the rules framed under it and also at the TRAI Act, 1997, “there is no prima facie case with this petitioner [AIDCF]”. The tribunal believes that AIDCF will not face any irreparable loss if Star Sports is not restrained from providing its content via Disney+ Hotstar. As such, it refused to restrain Star Sports from providing viewers with free-of-charge access to its content. TDSAT says that AIDCF can maintain a list of consumers who have subscribed to the Star Sports channel on its platform and present this before the final hearing. It has adjourned the matter till 18 December 2023. 

What does Regulation 3(2) say?

Under this regulation,  every broadcaster has to “provide, on non-discriminatory basis, the signals of television channel to the distributor or convey the reasons in writing for rejection of the request if the signals of television channel are denied to such distributor,” within sixty days of receiving a written request from a distributor of television channels for obtaining signals of a television channel or within thirty days of signing of an interconnection agreement with the distributor. Further, the imposition of an unreasonable request by a broadcaster shall constitute a denial of service.


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It also mentions that this sub-regulation would not apply to, “a distributor of television channels, who requests signals of a particular television channel from a broadcaster while at the same time demands carriage fee for distribution of that television channel or who is in default of payment to the broadcaster and continues to be in such default.”

What AIDCF’s legal counsel argues:

AIDCF’s lawyers submitted before the Tribunal, its judgment in Petition No.295(C) of 2014 and (2019) 2SCC 104, to argue that either Star Sports should be restrained from providing its content free of charge or should also provide free of charge access to its content to AIDCF as well. 

They argued that the TDSAT has jurisdiction over Star’s OTT platform (that is, Disney+ Hostar) by mentioning that the company is using broadband internet for content distribution which falls within the definition of telegraph under the Indian Telegraph Act. 

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How Star India’s counsel responded:

Star India’s lawyers said that the company wears two hats— one as a broadcaster and another as an OTT platform. They argued that the regulations do not mention OTT platforms under their ambit and that, “nothing can be added in this definition by this Tribunal.” Further, they said that the regulation being cited was meant for regulating the distribution of signals of TV channels and an OTT platform is not a TV channel at all.

They pointed out that OTT platforms do not require a license from the government and that under the current regulations in India, would fall under the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 and not under the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Act, 1997. 


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Written By

Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

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