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HomeArticlesRoop SharmaInterconnection Agreement is the Backbone of the Industry
Wednesday, 10 February 2016 06:19

Interconnection Agreement is the Backbone of the Industry

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The last mile in Cable Television belongs to thousands of small cable operators and main task of the regulator, when this industry was handed over to TRAI in 2004, was to restructure the industry for an organised and regulated growth. 

In the first few years, lot of consultation work was done on restructuring as well as digitisation. The aim was to frame policies leading to consolidation of the industry so that it can be organised better. So much so that TRAI's consultation on restructuring the cable TV industry dated 04 March 2008 was very specific and detailed. TRAI’s recommendations on Digitisation and addressability in the cable TV industry dated 05 August 2010 based on various consultations, that recommended a total digitisation rather than addressability only for the ‘Pay’ channels was accepted by all in the hope of a better future, least knowing that none of TRAI's recommended measures and financial incentives would be accepted by the government and cable operators will be forced to become slaves to large media groups in the name of public Interest. 

If the government was facing paucity of fund for financial incentives and there was a lack of infrastructure and inability to coordinate with state governments, TRAI should have amended its recommendations opting for a voluntary digitisation depending on the market needs rather than force even the 70% of poor households also to bear expense of an STB and costly ‘pay’ channels. TRAI’s impractical deadlines without any support from the government, has thrown thousands of cable operators in front of the corporate sharks for their personal gains.

It is incorrect to say that cable operators did not wish to be regulated, a statement often made by senior government officials, ‘Pay TV’ broadcasters and many corporate funded industry associations. Cable TV Act was brought in only after the small cable operators, insisted on the government to regulate the broadcasters, who were coming in hoards to India to make money in an unregulated environment, forcing Cable Operators to do all unethical things. Even today broadcasters do not follow any laws. There are only the guidelines that were framed as late as 2006. The same thing goes for the DTH operations, started by these broadcasters. 

Unfortunately the shortcut to organise the industry adopted by the regulator forced Cable Operators do the impossible without any support, spending their own funds and made their future uncertain by fixing impractical deadlines. Perhaps, this was done on the insistence of some large broadcasters who wanted to create monopolies through their own distribution networks of DTH and MSOs. This is what has led to the present situation where these small operators/ MSOs are being forced to approach the high courts, against their wish, as a last resort to save their livelihood. 

It is also very sad that the Ministry has refused to accept its own failures and instead, has ordered the broadcasters to switch off the analogue signals of hundreds of cable operators of Phase III. As brought out in the TRAI open house discussion on Interconnection Model and Standard Agreement on 28 January 2016, in spite of the high court orders staying the switching off of analogue signals, broadcasters have not switched on their signals. 

TRAI is the expert in technology and regulations but still has ignored its own findings and recommendations, insisting on implementing digitisation without any support from the government in the manner wished by the Ministry for its own satisfaction. One wonders when TRAI is an independent body only responsible to the Parliament, as told by Sh. Rahul Khullar, the ex TRAI chairman, why it could not approach the Parliament with the situation on the ground and insisted on amendments in the policies. After all, the law of digitisation of Cable TV and deadlines of various phases were drafted by the Ministry on the recommendations of the regulator. Every time we have approached the Regulator or the Ministry pointing to the flaws in the policies, we are given a standard reply that they are following only the amended Cable Television Act. 

Ministry may feel very happy to declare the successful completion of Phase III but the reality is what the cable operators expressed in the open house discussion. TRAI is also aware that except for seeding  of Set-Top-Boxes, nothing has been achieved, leave aside providing any benefits to the consumers.

Interconnection between MSO and LCO is very important in the Cable TV Industry as it is the basis of a long and profitable business partnership, if the intentions are good. Therefore the Regulator must deliberate on the issue deeply and try to resolve disputable issues as much as possible so that stakeholders are not forced to go for litigations to save their business. 

Regulations framed for addressable systems have not created an eco-system benefitting the consumers and encouraging the growth of all stakeholders. Almost four years have gone past since the process started in November 2011 and no one seems to be happy except one or two large broadcasters and the DTH companies. The industry that was to be organized through these regulations is being destroyed instead.

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