Last month, TRAI sent their recommendations on HITS to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Perhaps, the pace of reaching these recommendations was made the shortest, just two months and twenty days for reasons best known to TRAI. Sending these recommendations in such a hurry, making HITS as another competing technology baffles many experts in the Industry. The very purpose of HITS as its name suggests, is to act as a satellite based head-end to the Cable Operators on the ground rather than be a stand alone technology for television delivery that needs to have a level playing field with DTH, as suggested by TRAI.
Confusion of the Frequency Neutrality
Primarily HITS facilitates a rapid distribution of digital Cable TV signals all over the nation. Hence, it is a technology for the MSOs. Any one employing HITS should be termed as an MSO as their ultimate aim is to reach the subscribers through Cable networks. This is the main reason that HITS operates on C-Band, the frequency band used by the MSOs and Cable Operators to down link signals from different satellites.
DTH on the other hand is meant to go direct to subscribers, thus it is beamed on Ku-Band so that a single small size dish antenna can provide all the channels needed by the subscribers. By allowing both these technologies on both the frequency bands could cause a confusion in the manner they operate and may lead to exploitation of the market. Whereas DTH signal on C-Band may not be of any use to the subscribers (needs a large, unmanageable dish antenna of 6 feet to 12 feet size) and may spoil the skyline of the city, HITS signal on Ku-Band may tempt the HITS operator to supply his set-top boxes direct to subscribers in the areas where there are no Cable Operators. It is impossible to check such actions as all Ku Band dishes from the DTH operators as well as HITS operators would look the same.
I & B and TRAI face to face
TRAI had sent their recommendations on HITS to the Ministry on 17 October 2007. On 21 January 2008, the Ministry asked TRAI to reconsider some of the recommendations in the light of some existing policies on DTH and Cable and the feed back received by the Ministry from various stake holders.
Although such reconsiderations are part of the routine correspondence, but in this case the ministry questioned the very thought process of TRAI regarding HITS. TRAI chairman Nripendra Misra had sent the reconsidered recommendations on 14 February 2008, mostly sticking to his guns while explaining the changes, but still conceding to the desires of the Ministry. Major points of discord were as follows.
The Ministry has rightly observed that none of the stakeholders or the broadcasters would agree to have the benefits of C-Band transmission stripped off by the finally of transmission of Cable Operators being in the Ku-Band through HITS.
The Ministry observed that since HITS is a backbone of the Cable TV delivery system, it can not depend on Ku-Band which is susceptible to climate severe conditions causing disruptions, particularly during rains and thunderstorms. The Ministry has rightly observed that none of the stakeholders or the broadcasters would agree to have the benefits of C-Band transmission stripped off by the finally of transmission of Cable Operators being in the Ku-Band through HITS.
Also it observed that there were greater chances of HITS on Ku-Band being provided as a direct to customer service-hence it may surreptitiously act as a DTH service in the garb of HITS license.
While defending their recommendation as an enabling and progressive one stating that Ku-Band could be effectively used in the future for HITS, the Authority said that distinction between the two target groups can be maintained even without insisting on band separation. This can be done by stipulating that HITS operator will provide signals only to persons/entities registered as cable operators under the Cable Act. In addition, the HITS operators should supply signals only through QAM set top boxes. Further, if it is found that inspite of these restrictions, the HITS operator has been supplying signals to persons other than cable operators, then chances are that the competitors such as DTH operators or cable operators would bring it to the notice of competent authority who will then take stringent action for such violations of licensing conditions.
Although this looks quite feasible but in practice, in isolated places or where there is no cable operators or HITS and DTH operators belong to the same group, this could be a difficult task. Also, implementation of stringent regulations is a tricky thing in India. A clear example is that till now, even after four years of introduction, we have not implemented interoperability in DTH set-top-boxes.
On uplinking, TRAI had recommended that for faster digitalization of cable services, the HITS policy should not impose any restrictions regarding uplinking from India only. The HITS operator should be free to choose the uplinking location.
. The Ministry observed that since under the DTH policy we have permitted both Indian as well as foreign satellites, stating further that proposals envisaging use of Indian satellites will be extended preferential treatment (clause 11.1), a similar provision should be there for HITS too. Also, they feel that since HITS will be the backbone of cable, it can not be risked to be located in another country.
The Authority, however does not buy this argument and feels that there would be no harm if the HITS uplinking is located in another country. Also, it feels that it is not as if the whole country will be served by only one HITS operator. Indeed, the TV distribution network already consisted of thousands of terrestrial MSOs and many DTH operators, and the enabling framework now proposed will only add several more HITS players to this competition.
In its reply the Authority has opined that its recommendations relating to uplinking reflect a correct balance between the need for a quick roll out of HITS services on one hand and taking care of security concerns on the other. However, the Authority will fully concur with the Ministry if the security and other concerns dictate the Ministry for restricting it to the uplinking from India only.
Here again they have differed from the DTH policy of mandatory uplinking from India and left the final decision to the Ministry. It is quite surprising that when only Indian companies are allowed to get HITS license and there are enough uplinking facilities available in India, why does TRAI feel that there is a necessity to allow uplinking from abroad.
TRAI however, agreed to the suggestion of the Ministry to change the minimum networth requirement of Rs 40 crores to Rs 10 crores as is applicable for a DTH company.
So now, we may soon have the HITS regulations coming in soon and the Indian cable TV scene to change altogether. Whether it will be good or bad for the industry will be seen in the due course of time.