In a significant ruling, the Telecom Disputes and Settlement Appellate Tribunal has held that Over The Top (OTT) platforms are not covered by regulations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and such a platform is not a television channel, hence does not require permission or a license by the Government of India.
Chairperson Justice DN Patel was hearing a broadcast petition filed by All India Digital Cable Federation alleging that Star India Pvt Ltd is in violation of TRAI regulations as they allow streaming of Cricket World Cup matches for free on their OTT platform, whereas those viewers watching Star Sports have to pay for the channel.
While it was argued by the petitioners that even though an OTT platform is not mentioned in the definition given under Regulation 2(r) of a ‘Distribution Platform’, the sub-section can be read with other definitions, the respondents submitted that as per the aforementioned regulation OTT platform is not covered under the definition of distribution platform because the definition is exhaustive and nothing can be added in this definition by the tribunal.
Finally, observing that the petitioners did not have a prima facie case, Court said-
“It is always open for the petitioner to maintain a separate list of consumers who have subscribed to Star Sports channel on the petitioner’s platform as the same contents are being made available through video streaming on the said OTT platform, thus no irreparable loss will be caused to the petitioner if the stay is not granted.”
Larger Implications Of The Order
The TDSAT order is in complete contrast to TRAI’s position on the subject in recent times. Although, the regulatory authority had previously recommended against creating a specific regulatory framework for OTT communication services like WhatsApp, Google Meet etc, in June this year, TRAI released a consultation paper asking stakeholders to send suggestions for regulating such services. The said paper also proposed a selective banning of OTT services as opposed to shutting the internet down.
Furthermore, the Information Technology (Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules was notified by the government this year and significant changes have been made specifically with regard to regulation of OTT platforms. As per the new rules, OTT platforms will have to self -classify content into different age-based categories, provide a mechanism of parental lock for their services etc.
However, the said Rules faced opposition in our Courts as the Bombay High Court stayed the operation of certain specific Rules and held that it was an affront on the guarantee of the right of Freedom of free speech and expression under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution. The said order was upheld by the Madras High Court.
Therefore, TDSAT’s order only contributes to the complicated nature of the current state of law with regards to regulation of OTT platforms in the country.