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TRAI brings Platforms Services run by DPOs under regulatory framework

MUMBAI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued its recommendations on the ‘Regulatory Framework for Platform Services’ to bring cable channels run by multi-system operators (MSOs) and local cable operators (LCOs) under the regulatory framework. The ambit also extends to other distribution platform operators (DPOs) such as DTH, IPTV and Headend-in-the-sky (HITS) operators.

In its recommendations to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), the authority has defined a platform service (PS) and the content that can be carried on these channels.

DPOs need prior clearance from the district authorities for transmitting any local information and local affairs bulletins. No change in the existing foreign direct investment (FDI) limits and net worth requirements have been made for DPOs offering PS.

TRAI has recommended establishment of an online system by MIB to register all the platform services being offered.

Registration is to be on the basis of a simple set of information and at a nominal registration fee of Rs 1000 per channel.

DPOs desirous of providing platform services must be incorporated as a company under the Indian Companies Act, 2013.

The authority has placed a limitation on the number of such channels that a DPO may offer to a subscriber.

A time of 12 months has been prescribed for the DPOs to comply with the guidelines to be issued by MIB in this regard.

In addition to the recommendations on PS, the authority has suo moto made recommendations for a regulatory framework for ground-based broadcasters as well.

This has been done to ensure that any TV channel that is distributed on any TV network in India is covered by a regulatory framework, whether it is obtained from a satellite-based broadcaster or is produced by the network operator or sourced from a terrestrial broadcaster.

The recommendations for the ground-based broadcasters are largely the same as that for the satellite broadcasters, barring the requirements of seeking spectrum and approvals in that regard from department of telecommunications (DOT) and department of space (DoS).

Retransmission of FM radio channels on TV channel distribution networks has been recommended provided that all the legal rights to do so are obtained. However, the authority has said that this matter will be revisited at a later point in time, once the FM radio industry fully develops in India.

Summary of Recommendations

1. The definition of PS: “Platform services (PS) are programmes transmitted by DPOs exclusively to their own subscribers and does not include Doordarshan channels and registered TV channels. PS shall not include foreign TV channels that are not registered in India.”

2. In so far as carrying local news and current affairs bulletins on PS is concerned, the following categories will be treated as non-news and current affairs broadcast and will, therefore, be permissible:

(i) Information about local events and other local affairs, sourced locally and not obtained from news agencies or from broadcast news channels/ sources;
(ii) Information pertaining to sporting events, excluding live coverage. However live commentaries of sporting events of local nature may be permissible, if broadcasting rights for the same are not held by anyone else;
(iii) Information pertaining to Traffic and Weather;
(iv) Information pertaining to and coverage of cultural events, festivals;
(v) Coverage of topics pertaining to examinations, results, admissions, career counseling;
(vi) Availability of employment opportunities; and
(vii) Public announcements pertaining to civic amenities like electricity, water supply, natural calamities, health alerts etc. as provided by the local administration.

In addition, TRAI recommends that the DPO obtain prior permission from the authorised officer in this regard and that the state governments should not charge any fees according to such permission. Any DPO offering PS must ensure full adherence to the Programme and Advertising Codes prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994.

3. MIB should establish a simple online registration system for PS. All DPOs shall register their PS channels with the MIB on this system. For registration, a basic set of information may be sought from the DPO. The information sought may, inter alia, include: (i) Name of the entity; (ii) Corporate Identification Number (CIN) allocated by Registrar of Companies (RoC); (iii) Identity of its beneficial owners; (iv) Address/ location/ area of operation; (v) DPO category/ In case of a cable TV operator – whether DAS or non-DAS; and (vi) Nature/ genre of content proposed to be carried.

The system shall automatically generate an acknowledgement of the registration of the PS channel. Once registered, the DPO can start providing the PS.

4. The validity of registration of the PS channels should be co-terminus with the operating licence/registration of the DPO. Extension of the registration/ permission period of the DPO would simultaneously extend the validity of the registered PS channels offered; consequently, there is no renewal requirement for the registration of PS channels. Further, before discontinuation or effecting any change in the details about a PS channel, the DPO concerned shall cancel or amend online the registration obtained for that channel.

5. No annual fees should be imposed on PS channels; however, a one- time registration fee of Rs 1000 per PS channel should be charged. An online payment gateway for acceptance of the registration fees may be incorporated by MIB in the recommended online registration system.

6. The transferability of registration and interconnection with other networks for sharing of PS should not be allowed.

7. Regarding the insertion of PS channels by LCOs in DAS area, TRAI recommends that LCOs and MSOs operating in that area may work out any appropriate and technologically feasible arrangement to ensure that locally relevant content is available on PS channels in a digitally addressable encrypted format.

8. Any person/entity desirous of providing PS, or is already providing such services, must be incorporated as a company under the Indian Companies Act, 2013 and the rules framed thereunder.

9. A maximum number of 5 PS channels may be offered by the cable operators in non-DAS areas. In DAS areas and for all other platforms, a maximum of 15 PS channels may be offered by the DPOs. These numbers are the number of PS channels to be made available at the subscribers’ end.

10. No change in the existing FDI limits and net worth requirements be made for DPOs offering PS.

11. The authority notes that all DPOs, other than MSOs and LCOs operating in non-DAS areas, are already security cleared. For these MSOs and LCOs, the authority recommends that at any time before the MIB obtains the security clearance, it is determined that the programming service offered on PS and which has been registered on the online system is inimical to India’s national security or to the public interest, MIB may require the DPO to withdraw from distribution the PS Channel or the programming service and/ or cancel the registration.

12. Any DPO offering PS retain, with itself, a recording of all PS channel programs for a period of 90 days; a written log/ register should also be maintained about such program for a period of 1 year from the date of broadcast. The recording and the register can be examined by the Authorised Officer and the State/ District Monitoring Committee appointed by the MIB as, when and if required. For PS distributed on a pan-India basis MIB shall be the monitoring agency.

13. The first violation of the PS Guidelines shall lead to prohibition on transmission of the PS channel for a period of up to 30 days; for the second violation, the prohibition on transmission of the PS channel shall be for a period of up to 90 days; for the third violation the registration of the PS shall be revoked and the channel concerned shall not be transmitted. Consequently, the number of PS channels that the DPO can transmit thereafter will be appropriately reduced.

14. A maximum time period of 12 months be granted for full compliance with the new regulatory framework.

B. Regulatory framework for Ground-based broadcasters

15. The MIB may establish a regulatory framework for ground-based broadcasters. The framework shall be the same as the framework contained in the Uplinking/ Downlinking Guidelines of MIB for traditional satellite-based broadcasters, to the extent applicable to the ground-based broadcast model. Thus, clearances/ permissions for spectrum usage from the DoS and WPC shall not apply.

16. Considering the smaller reach of some of the ground-based broadcasters, the authority recommends that a state should be taken as a unit and a reach in 15 or more states should be taken as a pan-India presence. The states that are members of the North Eastern Council (NEC) may be considered to be equivalent to one state, for this purpose. At the pan-India level, a ground-based broadcaster shall take on the same obligations as a traditional satellite-based broadcaster. A smaller footprint shall entail a pro rata obligation equivalent to 7% of the traditional satellite-based broadcasters’ obligation for every state that the channel is distributed. The pro rata reduction shall be applicable to the net worth requirement, permission and annual fee.

17. A ground-based broadcaster vertically integrated with a DPO, shall be subject to all the restrictions on vertically integrated entities recommended by the authority in its ‘Recommendations on Issues related to New DTH Licenses’ issued on 23 July 2014.

C. Re-transmission of FM Radio

18. Retransmission of FM radio channels should be permitted only after execution of an appropriate commercial agreement with all the rights holders. For retransmission of FM radio channels on TV channel distribution networks, the proposed guidelines for ground-based broadcasters should apply to the FM radio operators. However, this matter will be revisited at a later point in time, once the FM radio industry fully develops in India.

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