Wednesday, 29 October 2014

TRAI Open House on Platform services hijacked by LCOs

TRAI Chairman Rahul Khullar and his officers abandoned the Open House Discussion on regulating the Platform Services in distribution networks, being held at BSNL Office in New Delhi on 24 September 2014. Perhaps, this is the first time in the history of TRAI that stakeholders did not allow the open house discussion to start forcing TRAI officials to walk out of the hall.  
TRAI had organised the open house discussion as a concluding part of its consultation on regulating the platform services which include local video channels run by cable operators and MSOs, at BSNL corporate office in New Delhi. The conference hall was full of cable operators who had come from many North Indian states and did not let TRAI start the proceedings till it heard their grievances. Operators expressed their extreme annoyance at TRAI’s attitude towards them and refusal to listen to their complaints in every such open house discussion in the past. Generally open house discussions are dominated by the lawyers and executives of broadcasters, MSOs and DTH companies who keep talking in English which operators do not understand. The LCOs have alleged that by the time it is their turn to speak, officer in the chair closes the discussion due to shortage of time. 
As two phases of Digitisation are over and third and fourth phase is going on, operators are feeling that they have been let down badly by the Government and TRAI who are going all out in helping the large broadcast compani es, already having monopolies in the market and doing nothing to secure their business which they expected post digitization. Operators had come from many north Indian states including towns like Amritsar, Pathankot, Mansa and Bhatinda from Punjab; Ahmedabad and Rajkot from Gujarat; Lucknow and Gorakhpur from Uttar Pradesh and also included many local associations of Delhi. Anil Upadhaya from Lucknow initiated the discussion requesting the TRAI Chairman to first resolve their basic problems that were forcing them o ut of their business rather than talk about the platform services. Some oper ators demanded the presentation  and d iscussion in Hindi as they did not understand English. 
The discussion turned into heated arguments and TRAI chairman threatened to leave if Cable Operators didn’t stop speaking. However, Cable Operators were adamant that their grievances must be heard first as they were on the verge of committing suicide losing their businesses to the LCOs due to TRAI regulations. They said that the regulations had already destroyed their business through MSOs and pay broadcasters and under such a scenario, who would want to start a video channel. It was also pointed out that LCOs cannot have their video channels in DAS areas where regulations allow only MSOs to run them. Anil Upadhyay said that livelihood of about 1.5 lakh cable operators and another 20 lakh people working in their networks was in danger and TRAI was not doing anything to take up their issues. As the discussion became noisy, TRAI officials left the stage amidst cable operators shouting slogans against them. 
Operators from Punjab belonging to Sangharsh Committee voiced their grievances against Fastway MSO and said that the MS O has started taking over their networks seeding his own STBs, removing theirs from the subscriber homes and threatening them of dire consequences if they resist.
Operators waited for the officials to return and resume the discussion but it didn’t happen. Operators who had come from outside Delhi were very angry and all of them including those from Delhi went to Barakhamba Police Station in a procession and lodged a complaint against TRAI Chairman and other officials. 
Even in Kolkata, Bangalore and Mumbai, where TRAI held discussions with the stake holders on this issue, it faced similar protests. Operators gave their written memorandums to TRAI chairman at these places, requesting him to look into their problems that were caused by faulty regulations of mandatory digitization, driving them out of their business.



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