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Broadcasters to seek clarification from TRAI on interconnect agreements for transition period

MUMBAI: Broadcasters have stated that they will approach the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) for clarification on the interconnect agreements to be signed for the transition period.

The issue of interconnect agreement between broadcasters and multi-system operators (MSOs) was the focal point of discussion during the seventh Task Force meeting on digital addressable system (DAS) implementation in Phase III and IV areas on 20 April.

During the meeting, the representatives of broadcasters contended that DAS regulations should apply from the date an MSO takes digital signal.

TRAI has made it clear that the broadcasters can sign interconnect agreements with MSOs for DAS, but the agreement will come into force as and when the MSO is DAS compliant.

They also stated that no such issues of interconnect agreements were raised during DAS Phases I and II when set-top boxes (STBs) were still being seeded.

The broadcast fraternity representatives also stated that meetings with MSOs on the signing of interconnect agreements are going in right direction.

MSOs on interconnect agreements

IndusInd Media & Communications Ltd (IMCL) claimed to have sent requests to all broadcasters as per the TRAI directive. Only one broadcaster has responded so far.

Siti Cable said that it has sent repeated reminders to all the broadcasters. However, there has not been any positive response from them so far. It was mentioned that the broadcasters are filing cases of piracy against MSOs if they [MSOs] start providing digital signal in Phase III areas.

GTPL informed that discussions are on with broadcasters but nothing concrete has been reached so far. Hathway said it is in talks with all broadcasters with regard to interconnect agreements.

The MSOs pointed out that the situation is critical and TRAI must take immediate action to get the issue resolved. They also mentioned that the entertainment tax levied by state governments should be rationalised.

MIB Additional Secretary Mathur’s statements

MIB Additional Secretary JS Mathur, who was chairing the meeting, mentioned that the issue of interconnect agreement was crucial for new as well as existing MSOs who are not able to firm up and finalise their plan in Phase III areas.

TRAI representative GS Kesarwani informed that the regulator has set 30 April as the deadline for broadcasters and MSOs for entering into MoUs with regard to interconnect agreements.

He also informed that MSOs had to send their expression of interest (EoI) to broadcasters by 15 April 2015. He further informed that they had asked broadcasters to provide information regarding status of interconnection requests received by them from MSOs in respect of Phase III areas.

He said that the regulator had received letters from five MSOs along with the copies of the letters written by them to broadcasters for Phase III areas.

He added that in case broadcasters and MSOs fail to reach an agreement, regulations provide for intervention by TRAI in the matter. He also mentioned that broadcasters were directed to give report every fortnight but the same has not started coming.

He also said that in the transition period, MSOs can provide both analogue and digital signals in Phase III areas. As per regulations, digital signals can be provided in areas undergoing transition without waiting for the cut-off date, he explained.

Mathur remarked that though there has been some progress on the issue of interconnect agreements for Phase III areas, a lot of areas still need to be addressed by broadcasters.

He added that the consumer has every right to know what he has to pay for the digital signal, which is why it is imperative that broadcasters and MSOs work out agreements between them without further loss of time.

He added that the channel package rates have to be in public domain and that broadcasters must now finalise all issues with MSOs so as to have a lead time of implementation.

He also stated that while the universe for Phase I and II was extremely limited, Phase III has to cover all the urban areas of the country. This would require exhaustive planning along with suitable investments.

Both broadcasters and MSOs must now finalise their agreements and inform TRAI within the stipulated time period of 30 April. He suggested that TRAI should convene a meeting soon after the deadline it has given for finalising the action plan for smooth and timely transition.

TRAI has convened a meeting with broadcasters and MSOs on 28 April to take stock of the progress made on interconnect agreements for Phase III.

Mathur also expressed dissatisfaction over the public awareness campaign in Phase III areas. He asked all the stakeholders and particularly the broadcasters to start the publicity campaign forthwith.

Additions to Task Force

Requests have been received from the Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF), Noida Software Technology Park (NSTPL), and Grant Investrade (HITS operator), Broadband India Forum (BIF), Federation of Indian Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (FIMSME), and All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF) for additional representation in the Task Force.

Siti Cable was asked as to why they applied as a separate representative in the Task Force when it is already a member of the AIDCF. They stated that since only one member of the erstwhile MSO Alliance had membership of the Task Force, they were not certain that they would get a chance to be member of Task Force.

The Task Force decided that four national MSOs, namely DEN Networks, Siti Cable, Hathway Cable & Datacom and IMCL, who were also members of the MSO Alliance, may be taken as Task Force members for the AIDCF.

With regard to a request from the Federation of Indian Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises, it was decided that the ministry may ascertain the activities of the organisation before taking any decision on their request.

It was decided not to include the Broadband India Forum as the activities of the forum were not deemed to be related to cable digitisation.

It was also agreed to have one additional member from the IBF and NBA besides having NSTPL as a HITS operator and Ortel Communications to represent Odisha.

The Task Force members also agreed that MSO applicants whose provisional registration was revoked in Phases I and II for failing to operationalise should be permitted to re-apply for MSO registration even for the areas/cities where their provisional registration was cancelled and/or permanent registration was not granted. The security clearance of the Ministry of Home Affairs would, however, be necessary.

Local cable operators (LCO) representative from Assam mentioned that the LCOs in the North East in general remain uninformed about cable TV digitisation. The representative wanted that workshops on cable digitisation be held in North East.

Mathur mentioned that TRAI should give priority to plan workshops in North East immediately.

The TRAI representative mentioned that the authority has planned workshops in Bhopal, Bhubaneswar, and Ahmedabad.

Mathur reminded the representatives of the IBF and NBA that the data on carriage fee and subscription revenue was still awaited from them. The NBA representative assured that it would be sent before the next meeting.

The MIB joint secretary wanted to know about the initiatives by MSOs to try and use indigenously manufactured STBs. The MSO representative informed that they are in dialogue with the indigenous STB manufacturers.

CEAMA representative Amit Kharabanda informed that they had fruitful discussions with some MSOs on financing offers for the supply of STBs. He mentioned that they are also in discussion with some financial institutions in this regard.

He further added that they are now facing a major competition from the suppliers of ASEAN countries since the government, as per the ASEAN agreement signed in 2009, has reduced the import duty on STBs imported from ASEAN countries to 2 per cent only against 10 per cent from other countries.

He said that MSOs may neglect local STB manufacturers and start importing from ASEAN countries which will be against ‘Make in India’ initiative of the government.

He requested the MIB to look into this issue and added that they are also writing to the Ministry of Commerce about this development.

In order to know the use of indigenously manufactured STBs, Mathur directed that the information on utilisation of domestically manufactured STBs be sought from all MSOs along with the seeding plans.

Also read:

TRAI to seek details of Phase III agreements from MSOs and broadcasters

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