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GroundPost: TRAI studying loopholes in RIO deals to ensure parity

AGRA: With broadcasters looking to provide their signals to the distribution platform operators (DPOs) on RIO (reference interconnect offer) terms, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is examining if there are any loopholes in the non-discriminatory pricing that need attention.

Speaking at TelevisionPost.com’s digital initiative GroundPost, at Agra, TRAI deputy advisor GS Kesarwani said that internally TRAI is looking into the matter. “If there are amendments needed, we will come out with a consultation paper on the same,” he said.

KesarwaniReferring to the Hathway vs Star India case in the TDSAT on the issue of parity, Kesarwani said, “TRAI’s regulation clearly states that broadcasters cannot discriminate while providing their signals. All the broadcasters have to give an RIO based on which they will beam signals to the MSOs. However, the regulation also allows for a broadcaster and an MSO to sign a mutual agreement. Though these agreements are based on common understanding, TRAI expects that these agreements will be based on per-subscriber basis and not on fixed fee.”

He further added that during the analogue regime, the deals used to be negotiated. As the system is transparent now and as broadcasters know how many connections and active subscribers they have, the signals should be offered on a non-discriminatory basis.

“There might be situations where a broadcaster wants his channel in a particular package or place. These are points of mutual negotiations. But the mandate is that in an addressable system, a broadcaster cannot discriminate between two operators,” he said.

He said that the authority aims to create a level playing field for all stakeholders and to ensure that, it is mandatory for the broadcasters to provide their content on non-discriminatory basis to the MSOs. At the same time, it is expected that MSOs also carry the signals in a non-discriminatory manner.

“The RIO rates have to be the same. Wherever there is discrimination, there is disparity, which is followed by court cases,” he said.

Playing a vital role, digitisation has removed the channel capacity constraint. “But, at the same time, a number of challenges are also present,” he said. “The full benefit of digitisation cannot reach the consumer unless their real choice is captured in the subscriber management system. For this, it is mandatory that the choice of channels and services are captured by the service providers through consumer application forms, which should mention all the details and terms and conditions for providing STBs so that a consumer can take informed decisions.”

He said that it is mandatory to issue proper bills and receipts to the subscribers for the services availed by them.

Talking about LCOs, he said that they are the most important stakeholders who provide last-mile connectivity. In most cases, it is the LCO who interacts with the consumer and plays important role in providing good quality of service.

“It is in the interest of both the MSOs and the LCOs to work in tandem in seeding the STBs, collecting consumer information and integrating it into the SMS and issuing individual consumer billing. Unless these steps are taken on time, the benefits of digitisation cannot be realised and the expectations of the consumers cannot be met by the cable sector,” he said, adding the caveat that the public will not wait long and will move to alternative platforms.

He emphasised a fivefold regime as the way forward for the idustry—1. Plan your business, 2. Adopt industry best practices, 3. Do not seed pre-activated STBs, 4. Strengthen your marketing skills, 5. Build capacity.

Kesarwani said that the authority is confident that once policy decisions are taken by the government and the execution thereof takes place, the conditions would be much conducive to harmonious growth.

“I hope that all the service providers will come together, convert the challenges into chances and not only live up to the expectations of the consumers, but also surprise them with quality services at affordable prices,” he added.

Kesarwani also added that the landscape of media is changing in India and there are changes taking place in all three key areas of content, carriage and consumption.

“On the content side, besides traditional content, a large amount of content is being generated by the user itself,” he said. While content is reaching the consumer in various ways (such as cable, satellite, internet, etc.), consumer habits are also changing. “Consumers seek mobility. They want to see content on the go.”

He advised all the stakeholders to be aware of the regulations and to service the consumers better. He also urged the operators to start broadband and other value-added services.