Monday, 10 February 2014

LCOs fighting for Fundamental Rights

Progress of digitisation in Phase II cities is held up because Consumer Acquisition Forms (CAF) have not been collected from all consumers and complete consumer data is not fed into the Subscriber Management Systems (SMS) to generate itemised billing.
Keeping in view the enormity and complexity of the task involved, TRAI has exercised regulatory forbearance in the interest of consumers and initially extended the time for collection of the CAFs and entry of these details in the SMS up-to November 2013. Thereafter, on the explicit request of the MSOs, further extensions of time up to December 2013 were given.

After getting latest report from the MSOs the following extensions have now been given by TRAI for entry of subscriber details in the SMS system.
After the above deadlines TRAI has warned that digital signals will be switched off to the consumers whose CAF forms have not been submitted.
TRAI has requested the subscribers availing cable TV services in the Phase-II cities to co-operate and ensure that they avail of the services only from cable operators who are providing digital encrypted signals. The billing in these cities will now take place in a transparent and uniform manner, with the subscriber paying only for the channels/ services for which they have opted.
 However the situation on ground is not that optimistic. In Bangalore, S. K. Mathew Adviser to TRAI, Bangalore and Mysore in press release said that so far 22, 39, 590 set-up boxes have been seeded in Bangalore and Mysore,  which were among the 38 cities under notified the second phase  cable television digitisation in the country. In spite of this more than 200,000 went blank on 31 January   On 15 December, 2013 Madras High Court gave the interim order restraining the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) from taking any coercive steps against any MSO for giving analogue signals in Chennai. A senior TRAI official said that, we are still waiting for a date of the hearing, we have not heard anything from the court. The entire issues cropped up because Tamil Nadu state government owned MSO Arasu Cable TV Corp filed a case against Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and TRAI for not granting a digital addressable system (DAS) licence to run its business in the state. In its order the Court state that the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) formed to decide the fate of Arasu has to move quickly on it. The order also mentions that Arasu abided by the rules and applied for a licence even after the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 was amended in 2012.
TRAI officials said that, TRAI view is quite clear on this issue. The decision on granting the licence lies with the MIB. In our recommendation we said that state governments should not be given the licence. The  I & B Ministry is working on it but we haven’t yet got any response from them. The HC also state that since Arasu had followed the rules for applying for a licence, the MIB is not justified in keeping the matter pending and not arriving at a conclusion. It has also directed the Ministry to come out with a decision at the earliest.
 If MIB followed the TRAI’s cue and bars Arasu from securing a licence, the regulator can take action against the MSO. If the MIB disqualifies Arasu from getting a licence, it cannot operate and if they do, they will be in violation of the law. As of now, nothing can be done against Arasu due to the interim order given by the Madras HC. But which direction this case moves is extremely crucial as the country is soon entering phase III and IV of digitisation. And it will decide whether the city of Chennai remains an analogue island in a sea of digitised India. More important in this case is that thousand of LCOs who are now connected with ARASU will become jobless as they were forced by the State Government to discard their headents and join ARASU. Sumangali Cable, MSO owned by Sun Group is the other major MSO in Chennai lowering monopoly in the city in digital cable. It may not accept these LCOs due to its previous differences with them, leaving the LCOs in lurch.  Cable Operators are also not happy with TRAI digital addressable system (DAS) regulation on billing. As per the regulation the cable TV subscriber shall be billed by the on monthly basis and the bill shall contain the Service Tax Registration Number and the Entertainment Tax Registration number of the MSO. The LCOs fear that the MSOs will wean away their subscribers if direct billing is allowed.
Left with no other option, as the regulations are legally binding upon everyone in the ecosystem, the LCOs in different states have taken the legal route to prevent direct billing from happening. On 3 October Nasik District Cable Operators Association (NDCOA) challenged the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) regulation on billing in Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT). But TDSAT dismissed the petition in the light of the Supreme Court ruling that the TDSAT does not have the right to adjudicate cases involving TRAI regulations and the same can be challenged only in High Court or a Supreme Court. Anil Khare president of NDCOA said that we will challenge the regulation in the Bombay High Court. The Gujarat Cable Operators Association (GCOA) has already challenged the DAS regulations in the Gujarat High Court, which has asked the government to file its replies in the case. The High Court had earlier given the respondents; I & B Ministry, TRAI, and MSOs time will 12 November to file replies within two weeks. After repeated adjournments as no replies were filed, the Court has now given a final chance to the government and warned that it will proceed to final hearing in case the replies are not filed in time    Cable operators in Indore (Madhya Pradesh) are also planning to go to court for their fundamental rights. Already a case is pending in Supreme Court filed earlier by Cable Operators of Delhi. Thus the issues of imbalance in the regulations for mandatory digitisation are coming to fore from all sides where the policy has been implementing.  It is also envisaged that as the consumer connection go blank, in the four metros and 38 cities of Phase II. There will be mass movement from consumer side against government, forcing them to adopt a new technology 
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has also asked MSOs in Kolkata to start gross billing from 15 December, 2013. MSOs in the Kolkata Municipal Area (KMA) have requested local cable operators (LCOs) to expedite the process of collecting Consumer Application Forms (CAF) and channel package details from the remaining five per cent of nearly 30 lakh cable TV homes in the city.
Manthan Broadband Services director Sudip Ghosh said that apart from taking details from consumers in the prescribed handwritten format, “MSOs have also created a system in their servers, where LCOs could send CAF details to further advance the process of DAS.
Information and Broadcasting, Manish Tewari while speaking at the 5th CEO Roundtable on Broadcasting organized by CII admitting that response to digitization had not   been very satisfying and there was general unhappiness among all stakeholders, including broadcasters, multi-system operators and cable TV operators, the government has decided to put on hold the remaining two phases till the views of all stakeholders are elicited. After aggressively pushing digital addressable system (DAS) down the throats of customers in the Phase I and II cities, the government has decided to follow a conciliatory approach to implement digitisation in the remaining two phases that cover rural and semi-urban areas, he added furhher.
He also stated that the learning from the implementation during Phases I and II would also have to be taken into account while outlining the implementation roadmap for the remaining phases. If everyone is unhappy, then we should take a break and review and sort out issues. To find a solution on how MSOs and LCOs will work together in digitized India. The discussion between Maharashtra Cable Operators and Hathway Cable & Datacom to come up with a workable arrangement had given some hope for a smooth rollout of MSO-LCO on revenue share, and consumer billing in Mumbai. But talks between the two seem to have come to a standstill for some time now.   



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