NEW DELHI: Handing down a ruling that is sure to benefit direct-to-home operators, the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal on Saturday held that satellite television service providers need not subscribe to all channels provided by a broadcaster.

Delivering an order in the case filed by DTH operator TataSky against broadcaster Zee-Turner, TDSAT said that the 'must carry' regulation does not apply to DTH operators.

The 'must carry' clause in the TRAI notification says that the service provider will have to carry all the channels provided by the broadcaster.

Holding the TRAI notification that contains the 'must carry' clause as "totally irrational", TDSAT Chairman Justice Arun Kumar said: "It overlooks the fact that it will choke the DTH operator if it has to carry all the channels of every broadcaster. It may not be physically possible to do so".

Besides TataSky, public broadcaster Doordarshan and Zee's Dish TV provide satellite TV services through the DTH platform in the country. DTH operators obtain programming from all broadcasters, but there have been a number of disputes over sharing of feeds.

This ruling will benefit other major players such as Reliance, Bharti and Sun TV, who are expected to join the DTH segment soon.

The tribunal also asked Zee-Turner, a 70:30 joint venture between Zee and Turner International to distribute their channels to TataSky.

"We declare that the respondent has defaulted in providing signals to the petitioner on non-discriminatory basis".

TataSky, a 80:20 joint venture between Tata and broadcast major Star India, got signals of 19 channels, distributed in two bouquets of Zee-Turner at Rs 85.

However, Zee-Turner later insisted that it has 32 channels in five bouquets at about Rs 150 and TataSky would have to take them all. This was challenged before the tribunal by the DTH operator.

The tribunal said: "A DTH operator naturally will provide access to every broadcaster as they have some popular channels, which a DTH operator is likely to include on its platform.

"Moreover, if every channel has to be taken it means that it will have to be paid for. This will increase the cost for the DTH operator, which will be passed on to the consumers," observed the tribunal.

It said that this would make DTH expensive and it would not be able to compete with the newly implemented Conditional Access System or the traditional cable TV delivery system.

The tribunal further said that the intention behind this regulation appears to be that the broadcasters should make available all that they have to every DTH/MSO/cable operator, who makes a request for the same in a non-discriminatory manner.

Meanwhile, on the channel price determination, the tribunal said that it had already made a request to sector regulator TRAI to come out with a price regulation in this area.

"Price fixation should be done by TRAI only," said Kumar, disposing the matter