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Fastway’s Shimla JV triggered TRAI’s CP on infrastructure sharing

MUMBAI: The case filed by multi-system operator (MSO) Shimla Satellite in Shimla High Court seeking to share infrastructure with its JV partner MSO Fastway Transmission set the stage for the consultation process on infrastructure sharing.

The case dates back to January when Shimla Satellite had sought the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s (MIB) permission to share infrastructure with Fastway.

The MSO wanted to share with Fastway headend including subscriber management system (SMS) and conditional access system (CAS).

However, the ministry rejected the MSO’s demand on the ground that the MSO registration norms require every MSO to set up an independent digital headend of their own and provide digital services through this headend.

This prompted the MSO to move Shimla High Court, which directed the ministry to consider the MSO’s petition, thus setting in motion the process to put the issue for consultation before the industry stakeholders.

The then MIB secretary Sunil Arora wrote to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman RS Sharma to provide recommendations on the matter and suggest amendments that are required to the existing laws. In the letter, Arora stated that the Cable TV Networks Regulation Act 1995 is silent on infrastructure sharing.

He also stated that the ministry fully supported the idea of infrastructure sharing and making necessary amendments, provided the following requirements were fulfilled:

(i) These are acceptable to all stakeholders.

(ii) No HITS operator/MSO/local cable operator (LCO) is able to transmit any channel of any broadcasters without an appropriate interconnection agreement with the broadcaster/MSO/HITS operator as the case may be.

(iii) No MSO/LCO is able to transmit or re-transmit any channel, including local and own channels, without encryption.

(iv) State government officers and their representatives are also able to access the system of MSOs/LCOs to ensure that there are no violations of the provisions of the Cable Act/Rules and TRAI regulations and also to cross-check the reported number of subscribers/total collection from subscribers for the purposes of entertainment tax, etc.

(v) Accountability of MSOs/LCOs/HITS operators is ensured with reference to the SMS, their respective subscribers and to the respective state governments and local administration, as well as to the central government on all relevant aspects.

The authority finally issued a pre-consultation paper on the subject on 23 May seeking stakeholders’ views on the sharing of infrastructure so that all likely issues can be identified before initiating consultation with the stakeholders. The pre-consultation paper elicited 17 comments from the stakeholders and culminated in a consultation paper on 21 September.

In the consultation paper, the authority has suggested infrastructure sharing among HITS operators and MSOs/LCOs and among DTH operators. The authority is also of the view that infrastructure sharing should be made voluntary. It has also sought stakeholders’ views on whether there is a need for infrastructure sharing and how it can be enabled through law.