TDSAT restrains TRAI from acting against broadcasters on OTT issue

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The Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has directed the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) not to take coercive steps against broadcasters for not furnishing information related to the mode of retransmission of linear channels on over the top (OTT) platforms.
Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) and Sun TV Network have challenged the TRAI’s letter asking broadcasters to provide a detailed architecture indicating which media is being used to deliver linear content to their own as well as third-party streaming platforms. The broadcasters have refused to share this information contending that the TRAI doesn’t have any jurisdiction on OTT.
While admitting both the matters, the TDSAT has granted three weeks’ time to the TRAI to file its reply on the jurisdictional issue raised by Sony and Sun. The matter has been listed on 24th January 2022 when the TDSAT will consider Sony and Sun’s prayers for interim relief. In the meantime, the broadcasters will not have to provide any information to the TRAI.
According to a source involved in the matter, both Sun and Sony have argued that OTT is outside the scope of regulations regardless of the fact whether they are broadcasters or not. The two broadcasters also contended that they wear multiple hats and one such hat is providing their content to OTT platforms under Section 37 of the Copyright Act which gives broadcasting reproduction rights to broadcasters.
Sony and Sun also argued that they don’t use satellites or any other existing infrastructures which are regulated by TRAI. Therefore, the petitioners argued that the TRAI cannot ask for this information from the broadcasters.
TRAI argued that it has issued letters to the broadcasters in their capacity as broadcasters and not as OTT platforms. The TRAI further argued that they have the right to seek information from broadcasters. It further stated that the information has been sought to ascertain whether or not there is a breach.
The regulator also said that the only question in the letter is how are broadcasters providing linear channels on OTT platforms without a decoder box. TRAI further stated that it is only asking for information on the Network Architecture deployed for retransmission of signals.
The source said that the TDSAT asked the TRAI as to why should the broadcasters provide this information. The tribunal pointed out that even if the broadcasters provide some information, the regulator might misconstrue some words here or there and try to drive its own conclusions.
The tribunal also asked the TRAI to carry out its own process to ascertain if the broadcasters are in violation of clause 5.6 of Downlinking Guidelines. Since OTT is not regulated as per TRAI’s own submission, the tribunal noted that the TRAI cannot seek this information.
In their respective petitions, Sony and Sun have contended that TRAI’s letter is without jurisdiction as they have no power to regulate OTT. The petitioners have also stated that OTT platforms are not distributors and hence are not covered under the Uplinking and Downlinking Guidelines.

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