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TRAI should frame regulations that are fair to all stakeholders: Jawahar Goel

NEW DELHI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) should frame regulations that are balanced and fair to all stakeholders in the distribution ecosystem, Dish TV managing director Jawahar Goel has said.

Giving a keynote address at TelevisionPost.com’s Digitise India conference in Delhi, Goel said that TRAI should not frame regulations with a bent of mind like a consumer.

“TRAI should frame regulations that are for everybody. If you regulate us like consumers, then the service provider will be killed, and if there are no service providers, there won’t be any consumers,” said Goel.

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He added, “A number of times I have seen the regulator behaving like a consumer and not doing the regulation in a just manner.”

Goel also batted for the ‘must provide’ clause, stating that the clause has stood the test of time and must continue to be in force. He said that the tariff regulation should not be tinkered with as the industry is yet to mature.

“There are thousands of cases between the distribution industry and broadcasters. How can people say that the industry has matured and we should remove the tariff regime and the ‘must provide’ clause? For any lobbyist trying this, I will be the person to oppose this,” Goel asserted.

He also said that he would take the distribution industry to oppose any efforts to do away with must provide clause and tariff regulation.

Goel went down memory lane describing the circumstances under which the ‘must provide’ clause was enacted.

“That clause was enacted when some of the broadcasters had refused to provide their channels to Dish TV. A local cable operator (LCO) was planted by me as a petitioner against a multi-system operator (MSO). The LCO had told the court that the MSO was not providing the signal despite requests,” he said.

The TDSAT finally ruled in favour of the LCO by stating that the MSO could not refuse signals. Goel took the legal battle ahead and managed to get content from broadcasters for Dish TV by successfully fighting the cases.

“After that must provide regulation came into existence,” Goel recalled, adding that the clause acted as a barrier against monopolies.

“Many broadcasters don’t want to give content to one MSO because they want to help another one. So ‘must provide’ is a way of avoiding the creation of monopolies,” he averred.

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Goel also said that the voices that are calling for the removal of the ‘must provide’ clause favour monopoly. “Must provide is a safety valve against monopoly. It has lived for the last 12–13 years,” he noted.

Goel pointed out the lack of transparency in content pricing. “The pricing of broadcasters is not the real pricing. There was no rate card. Currently also there is no rate card. If some channel is available for Rs 5 on RIO, there are also thousands of cases where the channel is available to some for Rs 5 and to another for some other price,” he stated.

He also came down heavily on the practice of broadcasters to take distributors on junkets. “TRAI should also take note of the money given in kind by way of gratification. If there is commercial relationship, there should not be gratification; otherwise, let it be covered under FCPA (foreign corrupt practices act),” he said.

Goel bemoaned the fact that the ‘might is right’ philosophy, which prevailed in the early days of the cable TV industry, is still thriving. “In 2003–04, the muscleman MSO or LCO had locked up our distributor in the toilet and kept him captive for six hours. Then I had to intervene. The incident took place in Hyderabad,” he said.

The fight between distribution platforms and pay channels has now spilled over to the issue of carriage fee.

He also called upon the distribution fraternity to urge the government to bring over-the-top (OTT) services under the regulatory framework like other content delivery platforms.

“The distribution fraternity should put pressure on the government to regulate new distribution platforms like OTT, IPTV, etc. They might be covered under ISP licence, but for content distribution, there is no regulation. They can take the whole top line outside the country without paying taxes in this country. We as an industry should raise our collective voice against this,” he said.

He also asked broadcasters who are offering content for free on their OTT platforms to decide whether they are distributors or content creators and whether they have ad revenue or are following an affiliate revenue model.

“The cable and DTH industry pay huge amounts to the broadcasters, but the same broadcasters offer their premium content for free on their OTT platforms. My colleagues in broadcasting should understand how their channels should be distributed. We have no problem if you go directly to the homes and distribute your channels. But if they are doing through us, they should not resort to unjust practices like they are doing now,” he said.

Goel alleged that the 27.5 per cent hike provided by TRAI, which was set aside by the TDSAT and upheld by the Supreme Court, was a result of lobbying by interested parties. He urged TRAI to create regulations that are beneficial for the entire ecosystem.

“The regulation [27.5 per cent price hike] came out of the blue at a time when somebody else was drafting the regulation. The 27.5 per cent inflation-linked hike was even given to those channels that had not taken birth six months back. The price hike had to bite the dust in the court of law,” he lamented.

Goel also had a word of appreciation for the regulator. “After more than a decade, the industry has been presented with some kind of regulation, some sense of right and responsibility. However, we are not there where we should be,” he said.

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