Trai eyes revamp of broadcast regulation

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New Delhi: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) chairman R.S. Sharma expressed concern at the perceived lack of transparency in television broadcasting and said that an overhaul of the sector’s regulatory environment is needed.

“We are going to take a complete and holistic relook at the regulatory environment of the entire broadcast sector,” Sharma said.

He pointed out that though broadcasting came under the purview of Trai in 2004, it has not seen much regulation. Compared with telecom, “the sector has a whole lot of issues regarding transparency and relationship agreements”, he said.

“What we are trying to address is the contracts between the content providers, that is, the channel providers, the multi-system operators (MSO) and direct-to-home (DTH) operators. We have been floating multiple consultation papers so that the issues of all the stakeholders can be addressed as early as possible,” he added.

The stakeholders include television broadcasters, MSOs, distribution platform operators (DPOs), local cable operators and consumers.

DPOs obtain the TV channels from the broadcasters and offer these to the consumers either directly through DTH and Internet protocol television (IPTV) or through cable operators.

“The whole emphasis is on transparency…in relationships among stakeholders,” he said.

In 2016 so far, the regulator has floated two consultation papers and plans to come up with another on the norms for the quality of service for the stakeholders in broadcasting.

Trai lays down the standards of service for different service providers such as broadcasters, DPOs and cable operators and conducts a periodic survey of these services to protect the interests of consumers.

Earlier this week, it issued a consultation paper on the interconnection arrangements between the various service providers who use digital addressable systems. Interconnection arrangements refer to the commercial and technical terms and conditions of agreements between the broadcast stakeholders.

“We are trying to bring a comprehensive set of issues faced by the different stakeholders under consideration,” Sharma said.

He also spoke about his idea of broadcast infrastructure sharing. Like telecom, there is scope for broadcasters, too, to share their infrastructure in order to reduce the cost of operations. The regulator may soon come out with a consultation paper proposing tweaks in the existing licensing arrangements to facilitate infrastructure sharing.

“After we float the consultation paper, we will quantify/estimate as to how much can be saved by broadcasters. Accordingly, we will submit the recommendations to the ministry and if there is something within the domain of Trai, then we will take appropriate decisions,” Sharma added.

Trai has recently submitted its recommendations to the government on the idea of Internet via cable TV. According to Sharma, cable Internet will provide reliable and robust broadband connectivity in a country like India where connectivity is a problem.

“India lost out on fixed-line connections. There are only 20 million fixed lines and one billion mobiles. We moved from no connectivity to mobile connectivity,” he said.

India did not enjoy the fixed-line advantage like the US, but “we can partly avail that advantage if we start using cable TV networks as broadband connections. This will reduce the burden on spectrum. There are 10 crore households in India with cable TV connections, which means 50 crore people. The number is huge,” Sharma said.

However, there are certain issues that need to be addressed before cable Internet is rolled out. The existing cable infrastructure may not be suitable for Internet and might require some upgradation. “But upgradation will be easy as households already have basic cable infrastructure. Only the cables will need to be changed,” he added.

To carry Internet via cable TV, operators will have to get an Internet service provider (ISP) licence and share 7% of their adjusted gross revenue with the government. Currently, operators don’t share any revenue.

Apart from cable Internet, Trai has also been pushing the Bharat Net project, which is a nationwide broadband connectivity programme. Also known as National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN), it aims to connect all the villages in the country with fibre optic cables.

Trai recently proposed a public-private partnership (PPP) model to the government to roll out the project. “We have assured the government that we are ready to provide any kind of assistance it needs in building this project. We have not received any further feedback from the government,” Sharma said.

Asked if the broadcast sector will see any new regulations, Sharma said that the regulator is trying to strike a balance between the interests of various stakeholders, especially consumers. “Consumers are extremely important stakeholders with minimal voice. In our view, consumer interest is non-negotiable and we will continue to protect that,” he said.