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TRAI caps platform services channels offered by cable and DTH

MUMBAI: Multi-system operators (MSOs) and direct-to-home (DTH) service providers need to worry. In what may come as a major setback for them, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has put a cap on the number of platform services (PS) channels that can be offered by distribution platform operators (DPOs) to ensure that only locally relevant channels are offered to customers.

TRAI has recommended that a maximum of 15 PS channels could be offered by the DPOs in DAS (digital addressable system) areas and for all other platforms. In non-DAS areas, DPOs can offer a maximum number of five PS channels. In its recommendations on ‘Regulatory Framework for Platform Services’, TRAI explained that these are the number of PS channels to be made available at the subscribers’ end.

Till now, there was no limit on the number of PS channels that can be offered by DPOs.

“This limitation will address the concern expressed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) about national MSOs distributing their local channels over wide geographical areas,” TRAI said.

Limiting the number of PS channels at the subscribers’ end will force cable TV operators to ensure only locally relevant channels are offered to a subscriber as PS, the authority reasoned.

TRAI said it has observed that some MSOs are offering a very large number of PS channels, exceeding 80, and that too not just in the local area of the cable TV network, but all over its network, which often covers more than one state.

The sector regulator also pointed out that the issue regarding the number of PS channels to be allowed to a DPO has to strike a balance between the two objectives of the number being adequate enough to grant a DPO the unique identity that these channels offer while, at the same time, given the much simpler and cheaper regulatory framework, they should not become an opportunity to go around the traditional broadcast route.

The ability to provide unlimited or a large number of PS channels will also present an arbitrage opportunity for DPOs as they could circumvent the regulations on broadcasting by using the liberal regulatory framework for PS, it added.

TRAI explained that in non-DAS areas there is a limit on the number of analogue channels that can be carried due to capacity constraints of the cable. Therefore, a limit on the number of PS channels is required to ensure adequate space for broadcasters in these areas.

In the digital environment, however, capacity constraints are much fewer permitting a larger number of PS channels to be allowed.

On the limiting geographical area of operation for PS channels, the authority noted that DTH operators are already operating on a pan-India level, while cable operators are limited in their area of operation, particularly in non-DAS areas.

However, with the ongoing digitisation of the cable TV network, it will not be feasible to monitor geographical limits if these are imposed on PS, TRAI observed.

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