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I&B seeks TRAI opinion on bringing local cable channels under regulatory framework
MUMBAI: The local cable channels have for long enjoyed a greater autonomy without being subject to any kind of regulation compared to what their peer satellite channels have to go through. But that is set to change as the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) ministry is looking to create a regulatory framework for cable channels under which they will need to operate.
The I&B ministry has sought the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) as to whether there is a need to put in place a comprehensive set of provisions for local channels which would cover issues related to registration mechanism, including eligibility requirements, fee, and terms and conditions to be provided for such channels. In short, there will be a clearer definition of local or ground-based channels and their areas of operation.
The need for putting in place a regulatory framework for local channels being operated at the level of cable TV operators has engaged the attention of the I&B ministry for quite some time.
The issue has assumed greater significance with the digitisation of cable TV network across the country in a phased manner.
Mushrooming of local cable channels
According to the I&B ministry, the cable TV operators/MSOs are presently transmitting local news, videos and other locally developed content as separate televisions channels in addition to satellite TV channels obtained from broadcasters.
These channels, popularly known as local channels, are presently not subject to a regulatory framework unlike private satellite TV channels permitted under the uplinking/downlinking guidelines of the Ministry. As a result, local channels continue to mushroom all over the country without having registration /licence.
Local channels operating in larger geographical areas
Since the area/jurisdiction within which the programme generated at the level of cable operators can be transmitted has not been defined in the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, it is possible for local cable operators (LCOs) and multi-system operators (MSOs) operating at the local levels to broadcast local channels over a larger geographical area, i.e. at regional/state/national level by transmitting the same content over their entire network, the ministry noted.
The ministry also said that instances have been brought to its notice that some cable operators are also venturing into transmission of local channels over wider geographical area which includes inter-state and intra state transmission by sharing the same content with others on their network.
The local channels are operating as state/regional/national channels like permitted private satellite TV channels without getting any permission which is why there is a need to bring in regulation for these channels.
The intent of allowing cable operators to generate and transmit local programmes is to keep the local people informed of relevant local issues, the ministry stated. However this intent is not fulfilled when LCOs and MSOs start networking of the content to cover a larger geographical area. Given the present state of technological advancement, the tendency to network content at a larger geographical area has gained strength.
The ministry has, thus, sought TRAI’s views with regard to the issue of transmission of local channels at local cable operator level in Digital Addressable System (DAS) regime.
In its recommendations dated 25 July 2008, TRAI had recommended that LCOs shall be permitted to transmit their ground-based channels. However, in the current DAS regime only digital addressable signals can be carried out on the cable network which is generated at the MSO head- end.
The ministry, in its reference, has also requested TRAI to state whether there was a case for putting a cap on the total number of ground-based channels operated by a single MSO/cable operator.
TRAI has been further requested to examine whether there was a need to prescribe separate eligibility criteria for cable operators transmitting local news and current affairs channels at their level.
Specific recommendations have been sought with regard to eligibility criteria, terms and conditions including foreign investment levels, net worth criteria and requirement of security clearance etc. for such channels, the ministry said.