Already Drafts of Quality of Service and Tariffs have been released in this month for consultations. Since three out of four phases of digitization are over, the regulations issued now will become common to all addressable systems like DTH, HITS, Cable TV and IPTV. The new regulations have been framed after considering TRAI’s experience of the past five years in digitization of Cable Television networks.
On the matters of interconnection between the service providers, TRAI, in 2004 had released the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable Services) Interconnection Regulation 2004 (13 of 2004) to regulate interconnection arrangements in analog mode, in vogue at that time and later its scope was expanded to include addressable systems such as Direct-to Home (DTH) , Head-End In the Sky(HITS) and Internet Protcol Television(IPTV) etc. Subsequently the Authority also notified the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable Services) Interconnection (Digital Addressable Cable Television Systems) Regulations, 2012 ( 9 of 2012), specifically for cable TV services provided through Digital Addressable Cable TV Systems(DAS).
To keep in pace with the new technologies and advent of different distribution platforms in the broadcasting, TRAI initiated a holistic review of the existing regulatory framework for all type of addressable systems. From January to July 2016, consultations on issues relating to tariff, interconnection, register of interconnection agreements, quality of service and consumer of protection were held with stakeholders in the form of comments, counter comments and open house discussions.
After taking into consideration the views of the stakeholders and internal analysis of TRAI, the draft regulations the Telecommunication(Broadcasting and Cable Services) Interconnection(Addressable Systems) Regulations, 2016) along with its explanatory memorandum have been prepared. The basic principles of non-exclusivity, non-discrimination, transparency, level playing field and fair competition have been retained in these draft regulations. Some of the new features of the draft regulations are as follows:-
(i) A common interconnection framework for all addressable systems namely DTH, HITS, DAS and IPTV.
(ii) “ Must carry” provision for all addressable systems, on first come first serve basis. Distributor of television channels to publish information about its platform including available capacity and declare the rate of carriage fee.
(iii) No carriage fee is to be paid by a broadcaster if the subscription of the channel is more than or equal to 20% of the subscriber base.
(iv) The rate of carriage fee has been capped at 20 paisa per channel per subscriber per month. Further, the carriage fee amount will decrease with increase in subscription.
(v) The distributors of TV channels may offer discounts on the carriage fee rate declared by them not exceeding 35% of the rate of the carriage fee declared.
(vi The interconnection agreements to be signed in accordance with the Reference Interconnection Offer(RIO).
(vii) Broadcaster to offer to a distributor, a minimum of 20% of the maximum retail price of its pay channel(s) or bouquet(s) of pay channels as distribution fee. They may also offer discounts on the maximum retail price provided that the sum of discounts and distribution fee in no case shall exceed 35% of the maximum retail price, so declared.
(viii) Standard format of application for distributor of television channels for obtaining signals of television channel(s) from broadcaster and standard format of application for a Broadcaster for access of network from distributor for re-transmission of a television channel(s).
(ix) Format of subscription report to be provided by a distributor of television channels to a Broadcaster including free to air channels.
(x) Updation in the technical specification for addressable systems.
(xi) The framework for subscription audit & technical audits.
(xii) Extension of Model Interconnection Agreement (MIA) and Standard Interconnection Agreement (SIA) Framework applicable for MSOs to HITS and IPTV operators. Some of the checks have been proposed to curb the existing monopolistic malpractices as below:-
• No broadcaster or a Distributor shall engage in any practice or activity or enter into any understanding or arrangement including exclusive contracts that prevents any other distributor/ broadcaster from obtaining television channels of such broadcaster or preventing other broadcaster to obtain access to the network.
• Similarly, a Distributor cannot have an exclusive contracts with any local cable operator that prevents any other local cable operator from obtaining signals of television channels from such distributor.
• No service provider shall, directly or indirectly, prohibit any other service provider from providing its services to any subscriber.
• Every broadcaster shall, within sixty days of receipt of written request from a distributor of television channels for obtaining signals of television channel(s), provide, on nondiscriminatory basis, the signals of television channel(s) to the distributor of television channels.
• Broadcaster cannot make any precondition like placement on a particular number in EPG etc. before giving his signals. He cannot even ask his channel to be placed in a particular bouquet.
• No broadcaster shall ask for a minimum guarantee of subscriber base or a minimum subscription percentage for its channel.
• Every distributor of television channels shall, within thirty days of the commencement of these regulation, publish on its website the total channel carrying capacity of its distribution network(s) in terms of number of standard definition channels, coverage area of the network(s), list of channels available on the network(s), spare capacity available on the network(s) and the list of channel(s) in chronological order for which requests have been received from the broadcaster(s) for re-transmission and are pending.
• Broadcaster also must declare the relevant market where the distribution network is operational. Relevent markets have been listed according to the states and some UTs have been joined with the states for the purpose.
• A distributor of television channels may discontinue carrying of a television channel in case the monthly subscription, in the immediate preceding six consecutive months, for that particular television channel is less than five percent of the subscriber base of that distributor, in the target market specified by the broadcaster in the interconnection agreement, in that particular month.
• Every distributor of television channels shall, within sixty days of receipt of written request from a local cable operator, provide, on non-discriminatory basis, signals of television channels to such local cable operator or convey the reasons in writing for rejection of request if the signals are denied to such local cable operator. Provided that imposition of any condition by the distributor of television channels, which is unreasonable, shall be deemed to constitute a denial of request.
The draft telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable Services) Interconnection (Addressable Systems). Regulations 2016 has been uploaded on the TRAI website. It is also available on Cable Quest website www.cablequest.org in the TRAI section. The stakeholders have requested to provide their comments/views on the draft regulations specifically on specific values suggested in the draft and on completeness and consistency of the regulations within and with other draft regulations/ tariff orders by 28th October.