Interconnection has been the biggest bugbear of the broadcast industry in the country today. TRAI the regulator has not been able to resolve this problem till date. There are so many consultations on the subject for non-CAS, CAS and now DAS areas, many directions have been given, regulations have been framed and amended from time to time but this problem still dogs the industry.
Even after four years of DAS TRAI has not started getting data of DTH operators and MSOs as per their SMS reports like it is given by the telecom operators every quarter. This means stakeholders are not giving real info to TRAI & MIB. This puts a question mark on the success of DAS as given in STB seeding figures in the MIB report.
The very aim of mandating DAS was to bring all stake holders in the fold of Digitisation. It was meant to be ‘enabler’ for small players. Small players should have been helped by broadcasters giving them low rates and regulations should have enforced such provisions. However, the mandate of digitization has been taken by the broadcasters to squeeze maximum revenue from consumers and cable MSOs.
All these issues came to the fore in the TRAI Open House Discussion on ‘Register of Interconnect Agreement’ held in Habitat Centre in New Delhi on 26 May 2016. This OHD is a part of the consultation on the subject with the stake holders. This is part of an overall effort by TRAI to review all DAS regulations to resolve various issues that have hampered the progress of Digitisation, which is already late by two years from its deadline.
Current regulatory framework for interconnection mandates written interconnection agreements between:
(a) a broadcaster of pay TV channels and distributors of such TV channels
(b) a Multi System Operator (MSO) and local cable operator (LCO)
(c) Headend In The Sky (HITS) operator and LCO 6.
The primary objective of register of interconnection regulations is to prescribe the contours of a reporting system to service providers to report interconnection agreement details to the Authority so as to enable the Authority to maintain register of interconnect agreements as per the provisions of TRAI Act. It is also useful for monitoring and analyzing market practices prevailing for interconnection agreements.
Presently, the regulations mandate service providers to report the prescribed information, annually. According to TRAI the need to review the regulation arose as on examination of the interconnection filing details submitted by the service providers at present, the Authority observed the following:
i. The filings received from various service providers are not uniform which make the compilation and analysis very difficult;
ii. The requirement in the regulations regarding filing of standard affiliation agreement which is interpreted by many service providers as filing of Reference Interconnect Offers again, leading to duplicity of reporting;
iii. The Interconnection (DAS) Regulations, 2012 requires that every broadcaster shall furnish the details of carriage fee paid by it to the MSO to the Authority along with the information furnished under the Register of interconnect agreements (Broadcasting and Cable services) Regulation, 2004. A lack of uniformity has been observed in this regard among the broadcasters in furnishing this information;
Further, the register of interconnection agreements need to be updated to account various changes subsequently done in regulatory framework.
Surprisingly, many large broadcasters who come with a coterie of their legal advisors in such OHDs were missing. Rumour was that they all had met the TRAI official a day earlier in its office. Most of the broadcasters present were of the opinion that there was no need of the information sought by TRAI as it is part of the business negotiation between two entities and is of confidential nature.
All MSOs and LCOs were however, of the opinion that there must be total transparency in the system and every stake holder must know what type of deals have been made by the broadcaster with other MSOs. It was brought out that there is rampant discrimination in signing these agreements. There is no single RIO of a broadcaster.
Ms Roop Sharma of COFI stated that the major issues in the industry at present are:-
1. FTA channels and Pay channels must be treated separately. Consumers must be made aware.
2. MRP of all channels must be made public.
3. We should not assume that after 25 years, industry has stabilized and market forces are in control because-
a) Cable networks worked in a regulated regime whereas broadcasters till date have no law governing them.
b) Even during TRAI regime when many regulations exist, Broadcasters still rule the agreements; keeping everything out of reach of consumer.
Broadcasters said that since transparency has been brought in DAS regime and there is enough capacity to carry all channels, there was no need of Carriage fee. However, MSOs did not want carriage fee to go. According to them Networks have distribution costs and operational costs that must be recovered. Revenue to MSOs comes only from Pay channels where as they provide more FTA channels than ‘Pay’ incurring heavy costs.
It was brought out that till consumers can get their choice and broadcasters do not force bouquets and pay broadcasters are paid as per SMS reports of MSOs, Carriage fee must be permitted on mutual negotiation. Information must be submitted with TRAI. LCOs also wanted a share of the carriage fee since their last mile infrastructure is being used.
Punjab’s only small MSO expresses his frustration to TRAI
In his response to the consultation paper on Register of Interconnect Agreements Gurdev Singh Bhullar of Amritsar vents out his frustration against the inaction of the government as well as the regulator in controlling monopolization of the Fastway MSO and his exploitation of the small operators. He writes-
“We are the frustrated multi system operator having MIB permission No.F.No.9/36/ 2013¬BP&L dated 25/3/2013 valid for phase II city Amritsar (Punjab). Our tale of woes started from the very inception after getting permission to operate a digital headend in the state. Firstly our permission has been abruptly cancelled without issuing any show cause notice to the applicant by the MIB on 22 July 2013 on the fake report of Ministry of Home Affairs denying us security clearance. Our company is having two directors namely 1) Sukhjit Kaur and 2) Balwinder Singh. Both the directors are not involved in any criminal cases registered in India, nor have they been convicted by any court in India for the last 10 years which can be verified by referring the investigation to even the Interpol. Thereafter the applicant applied for contents with the broadcasters under DAS regulations. Our digital headend is audited by BECIL as directed by the Hon’ble TDSAT.
In Punjab state there is only one MSO Fastway Transmission Private Limited operating in the entire state of Punjab as well as in Chandigarh (UT), Haryana, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh in collusion with the broadcasters. Under the umbrella of The Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) this company controls the entire cable TV business in Punjab.
Broadcasters are adopting dual standards policy while authorizing contents to Fastway having their own rules and regulations wherein they are flouting the regulations but on the other hand they pick up the hard stick to ensure compliance with self styled rules on independent MSOs. This way they have been oppressing us since the beginning.
No other MSO dare to operate against Fastway in Punjab, if any one dares, he will be strangulated by the state administration, implicating him in false criminal cases.
MIB/TRAI is not taking any coercive steps against Fastway for violations of statutory rules as well as constitutional fundamental rights of other cable operators. Cable operator’s fundamental right have been infringed by the state authorities in collusion with ….?
Still the broadcasters have not provided the contents, even FTA broadcasters are not doing so under Fastway terror While lodging complaint against broadcasters the TRAI/MIB authorities are mute spectators.