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TRAI proposes sharing commercial information in deals with stakeholders

MUMBAI: The commercial details of interconnection agreements between broadcasters and distribution platforms are a closely guarded secret. But that is set to change if the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has its way.

In a bid to bring about non-discrimination in content deals, the TRAI has floated a consultation paper in which it has proposed making relevant commercial information available to industry stakeholders.

According to TRAI, the objective of ‘non-discriminatory’ interconnection agreements cannot be achieved by denying interested stakeholders access to certain commercial information of the signed agreements.

TRAI has pointed out that providing access to relevant commercial information will help service providers engage in interconnection arrangements by looking at the data and trends. It will support a level playing field and encourage competition based on efficiency and quality of service.

In the consultation paper ‘Register of Interconnection Agreements (Broadcasting & Cable Services) Regulations, 2016’, TRAI has asked stakeholders to comment on why all information including commercial portion of register should not be made accessible to interested stakeholders.

Stakeholders can provide their comments/views latest by 25 April. Counter comments, if any, may be submitted by 9 May.

Three ways of revealing commercial information

Noting that revealing commercial information may affect business relations of some service providers, TRAI stated that one way of utilising the information without affecting individual service provider is to provide access to trend analysis in the form of reports.

The other way of utilising the information without affecting individual service providers could be to disclose commercial information after hiding the identity of the provider and seeker.

TRAI further stated that to carry out meaningful trend analysis under the regulatory framework for interconnection, it may be necessary that all service providers use the same parameters for commercial terms in the agreements.

The authority has asked stakeholders to provide their comments in which of these three ways discussed above or any other way the commercial information should be made accessible to fulfil the objective of non-discrimination.

It has also asked whether the information should be accessible only to the service providers, general public, or both. Further, the stakeholders have to respond whether any condition should be imposed on the information seeker to protect the commercial interests of the service providers.

If the stakeholders do not agree with disclosing commercial information to the stakeholders, then how can TRAI achieve the objective of non-discrimination?

Periodicity of filing commercial data

In order to simplify the mechanism of filing interconnection agreements, TRAI has suggested changing the mode and periodicity of filing.

Presently, the periodicity of the reporting is once a year because the validity of most interconnection agreements is also one year. By the time these are reported as per the requirement specified under the regulations, their validity is already over.

Therefore, in such cases it is not possible to take any corrective action even if some changes are felt necessary and such agreements become fait accompli, TRAI stated.

It has proposed that the interconnection details can be filed throughout the year within certain days of the signing of interconnection agreements (say, one month). This can be done by electronically accepting the reports on monthly basis, it suggested.

Another way could be to submit the information in real time so that whenever the agreement is signed, one copy of the same is forwarded along with the required information to TRAI, it added further.

The authority has asked stakeholders to provide suggestions on regulation 5 of the draft regulations regarding periodicity, authentication, etc. They have also been asked to comment on how to ensure that service providers report accurate details in compliance with regulations and whether they agree with the digitally signed method of reporting the information.

TRAI has also asked stakeholders to give their feedback on the formats proposed for easy compilation and reporting in the draft regulations.

Who should report the interconnect deals to TRAI

In order to avoid duplicity of information, TRAI has proposed that the details of interconnection agreements between pay channel broadcasters and TV channel distributors be reported by the former.

Similarly, the interconnection details of multi-system operators (MSO)/headend-in-the-sky (HITS) and local cable operators (LCO) will be reported by the former. Further, carriage details wherever applicable should be reported by MSOs/HITS/DTH operators.

The formats given in the draft regulation have been designed keeping in view electronic filing. For this purpose, suitable online systems need to be developed.

However, for the interim, acceptance of reports through MS Excel and PDF formats with suitable digital signatures can be considered. The purpose of this exercise is to simplify the reporting procedure and work towards ease of doing business.

Why is TRAI reviewing the present regulations

On examination of the interconnection details submitted by the service providers at present, TRAI observed that the filings received from various service providers are not uniform, which make compilation and analysis difficult.

The requirement in the regulations regarding the filing of standard affiliation agreement, which is interpreted by many service providers as filing of reference interconnect offers, again leads to duplicity of reporting.

A lack of uniformity has been observed in this regard among the broadcasters in furnishing the details of carriage fee paid by them to the MSOs. Furthermore, the register of interconnection regulations needs to be updated to account for various changes subsequently done in the regulatory framework.

TRAI noted that the volume of interconnection agreements is large since there are 757 MSOs and around 51 broadcasters who have declared either few or all of their channels as pay channels (total 252 TV channels) to the authority.

Click here for Format for Broadcaster of pay channel

Click here for Format for MSO and HITS provider

Click here for Format for DTH and IPTV provider