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I&B Ministry Faced TRAI Flak Over Processing Fee

The Union information and brodcasting ministry, headed by Smriti Irani, had to face flak and severe opposition from the top broadcasting regulatoy body in the country, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, over attempts by the ministry to introduce new processing fee on the sector without due consultation process. Trai had opposed the process fee change regime brought about during the tenure of Ms Irani and asked the ministry why it was not consulted despite the TRAI being mandated of such matters as per the TRAI Act.

“As any change in the permission fee affects or alters the terms and conditions of the license or permission: the order dated 13 December 2017 of MIB should have been avoided, especially when recommendations of TRAI are mandatory in such cases, as per the provisions of the TRAI Act, 1997,” states the TRAI letter to the then I&B secretary N.K. Sinha.

Ms Irani, who has recently been divested of her I&B portfolio, faced severe criticism from the broadcasting sector over the past several months over the ministry’s non issue of new licenses and hike in processing fee for various services. Sources stated that the issue surfaced after Irani’s ministry introduced fresh processing fee for several services like name and logo change, transponder changes and live telecast by non news channels. While Rs 1 lakh was sought by the ministry as live telecast fee per day for each channel. However, it was reduced to Rs 50,000 after coming under severe criticism from the broadcasters. The norms were again revised — without due consultation with TRAI — regarding introduction of genres such as “religious” or “regional” channels. As a result, the processing fee for “religious” channels got reduced to Rs. 50,000 after several religious channels objected to the fee. And later, they, too, were exempted by treating them as regional channels.

The TRAI letter came even as the top regulatory body was in the midst of issuing its recommendation on “Ease of Doing Business” norms for the broadcasting sector and also in the middle of a consultation process after the I&B ministry asked them to review the uplinking and downlinking guidelines for television channels.

Sources stated that the TRAI missive came as the regulatory body was peeved at the intrusion by the ministry on sphere of work. The authority’s letter goes on to highlight the point that under the provisions of the TRAI Act it was the regulatory body which was mandated to make any changes regarding the existing processing fee and charges that can be demanded from television channels for uplinking and downlinking norms. It goes on to add that the “Central government shall seek the recommendations of the TRAI in respect to the matters regarding such norms”. – The Asian Age

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