The list of COVID-19 related demands before the Supreme Court is growing, with a fresh Public Interest Petition (PIL) now seeking free telecom services and free access to satellite TV channels via DTH networks.
The PIL has sought for SC to direct the Department of Telecom (DOT) and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to push Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea to provide “completely free and unlimited calling and data usage facilities to their subscribers for the period of lockdown.”
Simultaneously, the PIL also seeks similar directions from SC, urging DOT and TRAI to push Tata Sky, Dish TV, Airtel Digital and Sun Direct TV to provide “completely free and unlimited viewing facility of their channels and other contents to their subscribers for the period of lockdown.”
The PIL before SC argues that in times of the coronavirus lockdown, communication is only possible through digital means. The petition submits that the lockdown has caused a loss of income and livelihood for lakhs of migrant workers who are unable to travel back to their villages. This loss of income renders the lakhs of migrant laborers helpless without any viable means of communication. The PIL also argues that with quarantine in place, many people have been unable to successfully recharge their pre-paid connections.
The PIL also submits that the DOT has the necessary powers under the license agreement, to push the telcos into providing voice and data services free of cost.
Taking it a step further, the PIL argues, “Humans are social and emotional beings who require social interactions, various modes of entertainment to keep their psychological well-being in good form.” The PIL also argues, “Digital entertainment like watching TV channels on satellite TVs (DTH), watching various shows on streaming websites can be helpful in lowering the psychological stress caused by confinement during the lockdown.”
The PIL, again, argues that the DOT and TRAI have the necessary powers under the license agreement to push the DTH operators to give “free and unlimited access to satellite TV channels” on their respective networks.
As of March 31, the balance of the Universal Service Obligation Fund, available with the government, was pegged at Rs. 51,522 crore.