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TRAI releases consultation paper on interconnection framework for TV services using DAS

MUMBAI: Seeking to ensure non-discrimination and a level-playing field, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released a consultation paper on interconnection framework for broadcasting TV services distributed using addressable systems.

Along with the earlier consultation paper on tariff regime, the current exercise is seen as part of a broader move by TRAI to introduce a comprehensive regulatory framework for digital addressable system (DAS). Moving a third line of regulation particularly for the consumers, the authority will soon come out with a consultation paper on quality of service (QoS), a source said.

With analogue cable TV set to end on 31 December 2016, the sector regulator is examining whether a common interconnection regulatory framework may be put in place for all types of addressable systems.

Transparency, non-discrimination and non-exclusivity are other key areas of debate which TRAI wants to protect.

“The non-discrimination obligation is pivotal to the interconnection regulations. It is must for effective competition and orderly growth of the broadcasting and cable services sector,” TRAI said.

A possible measure in tackling the issue of discriminatory terms could be to mandate service providers to disclose their interconnection agreements in the public domain. TRAI wants the stakeholders to present their views on this.

The authority wants to know whether the terms and conditions (including rates) of mutual agreement should be disclosed to other service providers to ensure non-discrimination.

How subscribers can get their choice of channels at competitive prices? Are the principles of non-exclusivity, must-provide and must-carry necessary for the orderly growth of the sector?

Is there any need to allow agreements based on mutually agreed terms, which do not form part of RIO, in DAS where calculation of fee can be based on subscription numbers? TRAI wants the stakeholders to offer reasons for such an arrangement.

Another area where TRAI is concerned is whether reference interconnection offer (RIO) should contain all the terms and conditions, including rates and discounts offered by the provider. Should RIO be the only basis for the signing of agreements? How can agreements be comparable and ensure non-discrimination?

TRAI has sought for a debate on whether ‘must carry’ provision should be applicable for direct-to-home (DTH), IPTV and headend-in-the-sky (HITS) platforms. Since there is limited satellite bandwidth, should there be reasonable restrictions on ‘must carry’ provision for DTH and HITS platforms?

Should there be a provision to discontinue a channel by a distribution platform operator (DPO) if the subscription falls below certain percentage of overall subscription? What should be the percentage?

There are other questions raised by the authority on the issue of minimum subscribers guarantee. Should the number of subscribers availing a channel be the only parameter for calculation of subscription fee? If no, what could be the other parameter for calculating subscription fee? What kind of checks should be introduced in the regulations so that discounts and other variables cannot be used indirectly for minimum subscribers guarantee?

On subscription details, TRAI has asked whether a common format for subscription report be specified in the regulations. What should be the method of calculation of subscription numbers for each channel/ bouquet? Should subscription numbers for the day be captured at a given time on daily basis?
Whether the subscription audit methodology prescribed in the regulations needs a review? Whether a common auditor on behalf of all broadcasters be mandated or enabled? What could be the mechanism?

Should a neutral third party system be evolved for generating subscription reports? Who should manage such system?

There are issues on MSOs being appointed as agents of broadcasters for distribution of signal. Should the regulations specifically prohibit appointment of an MSO, directly or indirectly, as an agent of a broadcaster for distribution of signal?

TRAI is also examining whether the framework of model interconnection agreement (MIA) and standard interconnect agreement (SIA) as applicable for cable TV services should be made applicable for HITS and IPTV services as well.

On the swapping of set-top boxes (STBs), one view is that it should be made mandatory for the MSOs to demand a no-dues certificate from the LCOs in respect of their past affiliated MSOs.

For manipulating subscription reports, there should be measures to curb such practices. Should stringent actions such as suspension or revocation of DPO licence/ registration, blacklisting of subscriber management system (SMS) and conditional access system (CAS) vendors concerned, etc. be specified for manipulating subscription reports?

Stakeholders are requested to offer their comments by 3 June. Counter comments, if any, may be submitted by 17 April.