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Broadcasters, operators must sign new agreement 15 days before expiry: TRAI

MUMBAI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has notified amendments to the interconnection regulation that mandates service providers, broadcasters, multi-system operators (MSOs) and local cable operators (LCOs) to sign new written interconnection agreement at least 15 days before expiry of the existing agreement.

The new amendment will come into force on 1 April.

The move, TRAI said, would ensure interruption-free services to the end consumer and continuity of business as usual among the service providers.

Though the regulation imposes no restriction on signing new interconnection agreement in 15 days before the date of expiry of the existing agreement, it is expected that new agreements would be signed much before that. It would be a rare case when the agreements between service providers could not be signed before 15 days of expiry of the existing interconnection agreement, the authority added.

As per the new amendment, the service providers (broadcasters to MSOs and MSOs to LCOs) cannot provide signals without an interconnection agreement.

To have sufficient time to reach a consensus, the service providers (broadcasters to MSOs and MSOs to LCOs) will have to notify at least 60 days prior to the expiry of the existing interconnection agreement.

Such notice would initiate mutual discussion and act as notice for disconnection to the other party, in case of failure to enter into a new agreement, TRAI stated.

The service providers will have to switch off signals in case they are not able to arrive at an agreement.

Moreover, MSOs will have to inform consumers about the date of expiry of the existing interconnection agreement and disconnection of signals of TV channels 15 days before the expiry of existing interconnection agreement in the event of its failure to enter into a new agreement.

While examining the details of interconnection submitted by the broadcasters and MSOs, the authority noticed that in many cases broadcasters are providing signals to the MSOs and MSOs to LCOs even in the absence of a valid interconnection agreement in writing.

In several cases, agreements between service providers are delayed on the pretext of continued mutual negotiations, but they continue the retransmission of TV signals beyond the date of expiry, which often results in disputes and even sudden disconnection.

TRAI also noted that the Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has made certain observations for strengthening the existing regulatory provisions.

The Draft Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable Services) Interconnection (Digital Addressable Cable Television Systems) (Sixth Amendment) Regulations, 2015 was released on 3 November 2015, seeking comments and counter comments from all stakeholders.

Furthermore, an open house discussion (OHD) was held on 11 December 2015. In the OHD, on the request of few stakeholders, the authority granted further time for providing written inputs until 16 December 2015. After considering all inputs, the authority has finalised the amendment.