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India's Leading Source for Broadcasting & Broadband Information - CableQuest Magazine
HomeArticlesConvergenceDo We Need BAI at All
Monday, 21 July 1997 00:00

Do We Need BAI at All

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Convergence of Telecom Broadcasting and Multitimedia may make the BAI redundant very soon

The Broadcasting Bill 1997 was tabled in the Lok ‘Sabha on 16th May 1997 by S. Jaipal Reddy, Minister to Information and Broadcasting. 

This bill has created lot of debate in the media as it is going to affect every body who has interest in electronic media.

Among other things, this bill proposes to appoint an Authority, to be known as the Broadcasting Authority of India (BAI). 

The Authority may grant licenses for the following broadcasting services, namely: 

When all technologies are converging, why have any restriction and have a separate Broadcasting Authority of India (BAI), THAI should suffice. Both TRAI and BAI will have eminent people who will have eminent egos, giving no results.

N. Vittal

i. Terrestrial Radio Broadcasting Terrestrial

ii. Television Board casting Satellite Radio Broadcasting. 

iii. Satellite Television Broadcasting. 

iv. Direct-to-Home Broadcasting. 

v. Local Delivery Services including Cable TV and MMDS. 

vi. Such other services as may be prescribed. The Authority may further categorize the terrestrial Broadcasing services into analogue and digital and also into national, regional, local, restricted local services or any other similar service for the purposes of licenses under this section and prevention of accumulation under Section 12. While media is full of reports about cross media holding, foreign equity and other issues but hardly any body has discussed the impact of technological advances such as Convergence on this Broadcasting Bill. BAI will only be looking after a part of media i.e. electronic (excluding PBS). 

Such is the pace of technological advances that in the coming years India could exploit the economic and cultural potential that convergence promises. 

 

What is Convergence?

Before talking about the impact of convergence on the bill let’s know what ‘Convergence1 really is. “Digitisation” is driving what we know as convergence quite simply, digital technology is allowing us to transmit data or content (video, audio text etc.) in a common form to a variety of different end-user appliances or devices. The impact of digitization will blur the traditional distinctions we have seen between television, telephony and computing, spanning the entire value system from content/data, to network provision, to end user appliances. 

Moreover, since the same digital technology is bringing about this convergence, the method of delivery also would be same e.g. Fibreoptic cable, satellite transmission or terrestrial transmission. That’s why it is termed as convergence. 

Why convergence has suddenly become an issue is because governments world over are apprehensive that a few big vertically integrated players would take over the whole telecom. broadcasting and computing market place and force-feed consumers a diet of poisonous programmes that could be dangerous to their culture. 

This has caused many governments to think carefully about how to regulate these converging industries. However, while the distinctions between these industries will certainly blur and some players will become more successful than others, convergence should in fact open up plentiful choices for consumers and it should encourage vigorous competition between large and small players. For example abundant and cheap network capacity (be it cable, wireless, satellite, terrestrial TV) will enable many different types of 

Niche or mass market programming to be broadcast. Consumers will be able to demand customised programming to suit their particular interests-educational, commercial, sports, and news, global or ethnic. The net result should be to significantly enhance the economic and cultural prosperity of our country as well as its relation’s commercial or otherwise, with other countries. Digitisation and convergence are changing some of our fundamental assumptions about the broadcasting, media, telecom and computing industries and the ways in which they should be regulated. Indeed exploiting the potential of convergence critically depends on government developing a suitable regulatory framework that allows it to flourish. Like in US the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), oversees telecom, broadcasting and multimedia convergence including total management of space resources and orbital slots and frequency spectrums. But in India the government seems to be living in Stone Age. Where we already have Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) we are proposing separate Broadcasting Authority of India (BAI) two separate bodies one of which can be easily done away with, thus making it less bureaucratic and muddy. In many ways, convergence does away with the old reasons historically used to justify regulation. Scarce transmission capacity, high fixed asset investments, meeting Basic consumer needs. These issues significantly diminish while regulating with increasing convergence. 

We already have Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) we are proposing separate Broadcasting Authority of India (BAI) two separate bodies one of which can be easily done away with.

As James Quello, US FCC Commissioner says, “One of the principal benefits of technological development and increased competition is that it renders most extrinsic regulation absolutely unnecessary”. And in Europe, European’ Community Report has this observation: “Current regulation is confused... we need a radical overhaul of existing regulatory structures so that new services are not constrained by traditional regulatory thinking”. With other governments grappling with how to come to terms with convergence, India should be careful not to base its approach on outdated concepts that are still being adhered to in so called” developed” countries. India should look to the future in devising its Bill, setting the pace globally and preparing itself for the 21st century. The challenge for policy makers is to devise a regulatory framework that allows the benefits of Convergence to blossom while protecting the interests of consumers. 

The challenge for policy makers is to devise a regulatory framework that allows the benefits of Convergence to blossom while protecting the interests of consumers

 

In brief the Indian Broadcasting Bill should:

(a) Avoid imposing traditional or existing regulatory structures on industries, which are converging.

The challenge for policy makers is to devise a regulatory framework that allows the benefits of Convergence to blossom while protecting the interests of consumers

(b) Adopt forward-looking policies that provide the widest choice for consumers and take account of technological advances. 

(c) Ensure regulatory flexibility in a rapidly changing market place, regulations must be able to keep up with advances in technology. 

(d) Co-ordinate closely and consistently with charges taking place in the telecom and computing industries. 

Like in the U.S. the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), oversees telecom broadcasting and multimedia convergence including total management of space resources and orbital slots and frequency spectrums

Separate watch-dogs for industries which are fast becoming one are not needed. TRAI can and has been regulating practically all aspects except programming. Instead of creating another Authority, the government could quite easily constitute a Special Committee under the overall control of the TRAI thereby ensuring more effectiveness due to improved coordination. 

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