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Pick channels instead of bouquets, rules SC
NEW DELHI: In an interim order that will enhance consumer choice while reducing bills, Supreme Court on Friday said users of cable and
conditional access system (CAS), who constitute 96% of total TV households, will now be able to pick their channels without having to accept bouquets as a whole.

The SC's decision brought back into force Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's December 2007 tariff regime for two weeks, pending formulation of a new tariff mechanism by the regulatory body.

With this, broadcasters would not be allowed to dump their not-so-popular channels alongwith popular ones on consumers by asking them to either buy an entire bouquet to get few popular channels or not get any at all.

With the apex court's interim order on an appeal filed by TRAI challenging the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal's order setting aside its 2007 tariff regime, consumers can choose channels they want to watch and pay for them at a rate that was fixed in 2007.

Cable operators by and large said they were not unhappy with the order and were ready to implement it though they needed to study it. They said they were waiting to read the details of the order but said some broadcasters might be less pleased, as they pushed their channels as bouquets.

Appearing for TRAI, senior advocate Harish Salve argued before a Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices Markandey Katju and P Sathasivam that if the TDSAT order was not stayed, broadcasters would again club less-popular channels with popular ones and force the service provider and cable operator to take the entire bouquet, with the consumer paying for unwanted channels.

TRAI in its appeal said the capacity of a cable TV service typically ranged from 40 to 70 channels while close to 400 channels were available. "The cable operators had to show bouquets of only the dominant broadcasters, which led to compulsory carriage of less-popular channels of such bouquets to the consumers," it said.

It told the court that 2007 tariff regulation provided an alternative. "The most efficient way of choosing 40 to 70 channels of consumers' choice out of 400-odd channels is to choose on ‘a la carte' basis and not on bouquet basis," it said and explained that `a la carte' mechanism allowed consumers to choose favourite channels and pay only for them.

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