The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has on 15 December 2008 released a consultation paper on interconnection issues relating to Broadcasting & Cable Services.
TRAI had issued the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable Services) Interconnection Regulation on 10th December, 2004 and The Register of Interconnect Agreements (Broadcasting and Cable Services) Regulation was issued on 31st December, 2004. These Regulations have been amended from time to time to cover some new issues. However, the broadcasting & cable services sector is evolving at a fast pace. There has been a marked increase in deployment of addressable platforms for distribution of TV channels in recent past. IPTV services and Voluntary CAS have been rolled out by many service providers. In near future, head-end in the sky (HITS) and mobile TV services are also likely to be available. The number of subscribers being served by the DTH services has also gone up significantly.
This consultation paper is being issued to ensure that the regulations also evolve in step with the new developments in the broadcasting sector and to look at possible ways of filling the gaps in the existing regulatory provisions in the aforementioned Regulations and to deal with new issues arising with the ever increasing sophistication of technology and changes in market conditions.
This consultation paper covers the interconnection issues for addressable platforms, interconnection issues for non-addressable platforms, general interconnection issues as well as issues related to registration of interconnection agreements. This consultation paper seeks views from stakeholders on various policy issues, some of which are:-
The addressable platforms for distribution of TV channels reportedly face problems in availing content from the broadcasters at such terms and conditions which may enable them to compete with incumbent analogue cable TV networks. Therefore the issue of publishing of Reference Interconnect Offers (RIOs) by the broadcasters for all addressable systems has been put up for consultation.
Voluntary CAS is expected to be a major addressable platform for distribution of TV channels in coming years. The issue of promotion of Voluntary CAS efforts is closely linked to identification of such addressable platforms by laying down minimum specifications/ conditions for addressable TV channel distribution systems. The issue of minimum specifications/ conditions for addressable TV channel distribution systems has accordingly been posed for consultation.
There have been demands for giving flexibility to addressable platforms for distribution of TV channels with regard to packaging and pricing of channels. Whether such provisions should be introduced in the interconnection regulations is an issue of consultation.
The Authority has issued Quality of Service regulations for protecting the interests of consumers. One way to ensure that the service providers such as cable operators and DTH operators comply with the Quality of Service regulations is to link the benefits/protections accorded under interconnect regulations to service providers with compliance with the Quality of Service regulations. The issue of linking the benefits/protections accorded under interconnect regulations to compliance with the Quality of Service regulations has accordingly been put up for consultation.
There have been demands from some stakeholders for regulation of carriage fee charged by distributors of TV channels. Views of stakeholders have been sought on the need to regulate some aspects of carriage fee, such as stability, transparency, predictability and periodicity, as well as the relationship between TAM/TRP ratings and carriage fee.
As per the Quality of Service Regulations, the DTH operators are required to provide six months tariff protection for subscribers. However, the DTH operators are dependent upon the broadcasters for getting the content. The issue of regulatory measures that may be needed to be taken to ensure that DTH operators are able to provide six month protection has been posed for consultation.
Absence of a written interconnection agreement often leads to disputes and litigation. It has been represented by different stakeholders from time to time that the Authority should mandate that in future, all Interconnection Agreements should be in writing. Another associated issue is that of complaints from cable operators about being forced to sign blank agreements and not being provided with a copy of Interconnection Agreement signed by the Broadcaster/ MSO. The stakeholders have been asked to suggest possible solutions for these issues.
The details filed by the Broadcaster in respect of Interconnection Agreements are kept confidential. It is not possible for any distributor of TV channels to know about the terms on which the signals are being provided to other distributors of TV channels. It is accordingly not possible for a distributor of TV channels to find out whether he is being discriminated against. The issue of whether the interconnection filings should be placed in public domain to enable automatic implementation of non-discrimination clause in interconnect regulation has been posed for consultation.
The Authority has invited all stakeholders to respond to the issues raised in this consultation paper by 12th January, 2009. The comments received will be posted on TRAI's website. The full text of the consultation paper is available on TRAI's website: www.trai.gov.in.