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TRAI recommends infra sharing among DPOs, asks MIB to make suitable amendments

MUMBAI: India’s television distribution sector could soon have infrastructure sharing among multi-system operators (MSOs), local cable operators (LCOs), headend-in-the-sky (HITS) operators and direct-to-home (DTH) service providers run on a voluntary basis, a move that would reduce capital expenditure, lower entry barriers for new players and provide more bandwidth for niche channels to reach targeted customers.

While recommending infrastructure sharing among the distribution platform operators (DPOs), the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has asked the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) to make suitable amendments to licence conditions.

TRAI on Wednesday recommended infrastructure sharing between MSOs/ LCOs and HITS operators, and among DTH service providers to allow optimum utilisation of valuable resources like spectrum and reduce the entry barrier in the distribution sector.

The broadcast sector regulator has sent its recommendations to the MIB, which had sought its views on infrastructure sharing by MSOs, LCOs, HITS and DTH operators in consultation with all the stakeholders.

TRAI has urged the MIB to take up the issue of infrastructure sharing with the Department of Space (DOS), Wireless Planning and Coordination (WPC) and Network Operation & Control Centre (NOCC) to pave the way for sharing of transponder capacities by operators. Necessary amendments, if any, should be carried out in the licences/permission letters.

According to TRAI, the objective of these recommendations is to create a policy environment for facilitating sharing of infrastructure in the TV broadcasting distribution sector on voluntary basis.

Infrastructure sharing would help in enhanced availability of distribution network capacities besides helping reduce capex and operative expenses for the service providers, thereby bringing down the price of broadcasting services to subscribers.

In addition,  it would lower the entry barriers for new service providers and provide more space for niche channels to reach targeted customers.

Lowering of entry barriers in the distribution space could propel competition in the market and more choices to consumers due to the presence of multiple operators in a given territory, TRAI said.

The whole premise of infra sharing is that most of the channels carried by DPOs are common; therefore, these channels can be distributed through a common infra pool using simulcryption. For unique channels and services, the DPOs can distribute them through their own dedicated infra.

Presently, there is no bar to infrastructure sharing in broadcasting distribution networks; however, certain conditions in the registration, guidelines or relevant rules are acting as deterrent for service providers to act in this direction. TRAI has asked the MIB to make suitable amendments to licence conditions and laws to pave the way for infra sharing among DPOs.

While urging the central government to allow infra sharing, the authority said that the responsibility of compliance with the relevant acts, rules, regulations, licence, orders, directions and guidelines would continue to lie with each distributor of TV channels.

TRAI has recommended that each distributor should undertake to ensure encryption of signals and addressability of subscribers in all circumstances. They must also provide access of all the systems and networks to the broadcasters concerned for the purpose of audit.

The authority has suggested that sharing of head-end used for cable TV services and transport streams transmitting signals of TV channels among MSOs should be permitted on voluntary basis.

DTH operators that are willing to share DTH platform and transport stream of TV channels, on voluntary basis, should be allowed to do so with prior written intimation to MIB and TRAI, it said.

However, the MSO and DTH operator willing to share its transport stream of TV channels with another MSO and DTH operator should ensure that the latter MSO has valid written interconnection agreements with the broadcasters concerned for distribution of pay TV channels to the subscribers.

Conditions for cable TV and HITS operators

To enable sharing of head-end used for cable TV services, TRAI has recommended that the MSO registration condition regarding ‘having an independent digital head-end of his own and provide digital addressable cable services from his head-end’ should be suitably amended so as to allow sharing of head-ends.

The regulator has also recommended that HITS operators and MSOs be allowed to share HITS platforms, on voluntary basis, in flexible ways, for distribution of TV channels, provided that the signals of HITS platforms are distributed to subscribers through LCOs only and the encryption of signals, addressability and liabilities are not compromised.

The sharing of transport streams transmitted by HITS platforms between HITS operators and MSOs should be permitted. However, HITS platforms should not be allowed to be used as teleport for uplinking of satellite TV channels.

The HITS operator willing to share its transport stream of TV channels with an MSO should ensure that such an MSO has a valid written interconnection agreement with the broadcasters concerned for distribution of pay TV channels to the subscribers, TRAI stated.

Conditions for DTH operators

To allow a new DTH operator to use the existing DTH platform and transport streams of TV channels transmitted on that platform, the conditions relating to hiring of satellite capacity and setting up of earth station should be amended suitably.

It further stated that a DTH operator providing DTH services using the shared infrastructure with another DTH operator should be allowed to establish, maintain and operate its own DTH platform at a later date, within the licence validity period after following the due procedure.

To ensure continuity of services to subscribers in the event of any disaster, TRAI has suggested sharing of the main and the disaster recovery site in hot standby mode with the prior approval of the licensor.

Further, the authority has recommended that the distributor who shares its infrastructure and transport streams of TV channels with other distributors of TV channels should set up systems and processes to ensure that broadcasters are able to exercise their right of disconnection of signals in case of default of payment or due to any other reason. This should be based on the interconnection agreement entered into between the broadcaster and the distributor and the relevant regulations in place.

For ensuring the legal enforcement of processes put in place by the distributor for protecting the rights of the service providers, the necessary conditions need to be included in the agreements between different service providers.

The distributors sharing infrastructure should put in place necessary technical arrangements for detecting the specific pirate in the unlikely event of any such incidence and satisfy broadcasters’ reasonable concerns at the time of the initial audit itself.

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