A dispute between two established television companies and a small player has brought to the fore questions about the jurisdiction of regulators. Rebecca Abraham reports

India’s antitrust regulator on 27 July ordered its investigative wing to ascertain if two television broadcasters had caused an appreciable adverse effect on competition within the sector by indulging in a “refusal to deal by way of price discrimination”. The refusal violates section 3(4) of the Competition Act, 2002.

A distributor of TV channel content, Noida Software Technology Park (NSTPL), had informed the Competition Commission of India (CCI) that broadcasters Star India and Sony Pictures Networks India had refused to provide it with anything other than a reference interconnect offer (RIO)-based agreement, on extremely high and onerous commercial terms. NSTPL alleged that other distributors, which the broadcasters routinely dealt with, were offered deals based on a separate set of interconnect agreements that were on more attractive terms.

This was also in contravention of the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable Services) Interconnection Regulations, 2004, which require all similarly situated distributors to be offered signals of TV channels on similar non-discriminatory terms.

Making this order, the CCI said its investigative wing, the Director General, was at liberty to investigate any other broadcaster it believed was indulging in similar anti-competitive conduct. The investigation was to be completed in 60 days.

New kid on the block

The 27 July order was CCI’s first that was related to ongoing disputes between NSTPL and the broadcasters. Both Star and Sony immediately sought to challenge it in Bombay High Court. The court, through interim orders passed on 16 August and 7 September, ordered that the CCI pass “no coercive orders” against the two broadcasters and effectively tied the antitrust regulator’s hands.

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