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TRAI seeks views on amending licence conditions to enable infra sharing among cable, HITS and DTH ops

MUMBAI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India ( TRAI) has sought the views of stakeholders on amending licence conditions of multi-system operators (MSOs), headend-in-the-sky (HITS) and direct-to-home (DTH) operators, to enable infrastructure sharing among different distribution platform operators (DPOs).

The registration conditions of MSOs that mandate that the MSO shall have an independent digital headend of their own and provide digital addressable cable TV services from its own headend need to be amended to make infrastructure sharing feasible, TRAI has said.

Similarly, the licensing guidelines for HITS may also require some amendment to permit the HITS operator to offer its platform for utilisation by other MSOs to reach their LCOs. Other registration/licensing conditions of MSOs/HITS players may also require suitable amendments to enable infrastructure sharing.

At present, to apply for a DTH licence one has to specify the satellite capacity which a potential DTH operator proposes to use and provide a satellite capacity lease agreement. Satellite capacity is today authorised on the DTH licensee after paying the applicable spectrum fees.

In its consultation paper on ‘Infrastructure sharing in broadcasting TV distribution sector’, TRAI has stated that there is a possibility of infrastructure sharing between MSOs and HITS operators and among MSOs. It has also observed that DTH operators can share infrastructure among themselves. However, it has ruled out infrastructure sharing between DTH and MSOs/HITS operators.

TRAI has said that HITS networks are similar to digital cable TV networks, their only difference being the mode of transmission of signal from the headend to the node installed in the local cable operator (LCO).

The consultation paper follows the pre-consultation paper that was issued in May to solicit stakeholders’ views on issues related to sharing of infrastructure so that all likely issues can be identified before initiating consultation with the stakeholders.

In their responses to the pre-consultation paper, the stakeholders opined that infrastructure sharing will require changes in the agreement entered by the DPOs with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Network Operation and Control Center (NOCC), Wireless Planning Commission (WPC), teleports, etc.

TRAI has asked stakeholders to provide comments on specific amendments that are required in the cable TV Act and Rules besides the MSO registration conditions and HITS licensing guidelines, to enable sharing of infrastructure among MSOs.

It has also asked DTH operators about the specific amendments required to the guidelines for obtaining licence for providing DTH broadcasting service to enable sharing of infrastructure among DTH operators.

The MIB had sent a reference dated 29 April to TRAI, requesting the authority to examine the issue of the infrastructure sharing by MSOs, LCOs and HITS operators in consultation with all the stakeholders.

According to TRAI, HITS networks can be effectively utilised by different MSOs for transmitting the signals of TV channels to their linked LCOs. Such sharing becomes more relevant when an MSO wants to distribute signals of TV channels to a place that is far from its headends, it added.

The move will lead to optimisation of operational costs, which may ultimately benefit the end subscribers in the form of reduced prices with the same quality of service. It may also lead to separation of networks and services.

Dual model for infra sharing between MSOs and HITS operators

TRAI has suggested two models through which MSOs can share the infrastructure of a HITS operator.

One way of sharing the HITS network infrastructure with the MSOs could be using the HITS network infrastructure for down-linking the signals of TV channels and integrated receiver decoders (IRDs) available with the HITS operator for each channel.

The base band signal of such TV channels are then encoded and multiplexed in the headend of the HITS operator before re-transmission. The multiplexed streams of the channels aggregated by the HITS operator are shared by multiple MSOs.

The multiplex streams can be uplinked after carrying out encryption by same or different CASs as per agreement between the HITS operator and the MSOs.

In this manner, a HITS network can be shared by multiple MSOs, as a multiplexed stream of TV channels can be simulcrypted using eight different CASs, as per DVB simulcrypt standards.

In this mode of infrastructure sharing, there could be savings in the CAPEX and OPEX for operators, TRAI has stated.

In this model, an MSO can have interconnection agreement with multiple broadcasters for commercial settlements and use the multiplexed streams of the TV channels aggregated by the HITS operator for re-transmission. The MSO may use its own CAS and SMS, or it can share any one or both of these infrastructure elements also with the HITS operator.

For provisioning disconnection and security of the content, a suitable mechanism needs to be evolved through this consultation, the authority has said.

Another model suggested by TRAI involves the MSO using its own infrastructure for down-linking the signals of TV channels through the IRDs provided to it by each broadcaster and multiplexing them in its own headend before re-transmission.

Such multiplexed streams of the channels are made available by the MSO to the HITS operator for further re-transmission to the linked LCOs of that MSO only. In this way, the HITS network is used as a transmission system only and addresses the issues relating to non-availability and cost of optical fibre infrastructure.

However, the authority has observed that this model does not take advantage of the fact that a large number of satellite TV channels re-transmitted by each operator are common across multiple MSOs in a relevant market and, therefore, the satellite transponders cannot be optimally utilised due to the transmission of signals of same channel in different streams.

The sharing of infrastructure among MSOs and HITS operators, and among MSOs, using the first model may also solve the issues relating to limited or practically ‘nil’ competition in the last-mile access of the cable TV networks.

With the help of simulcrypt technology and sharing of common transport stream, the signals of multiple operators can be distributed through a single coaxial cable TV network.

Depending on the number of an LCO’s interconnection agreements with MSOs and HITS operators, multiple options of choosing distributor may become practicable for customers.

The authority has asked stakeholders to provide comments whether there is a need to enable infrastructure sharing among MSOs and HITS operators, or among MSOs and, if yes, what would be the preferable model.

DTH infra sharing

Currently, every DTH operator transmits approximately 350–450 SD TV channels and around 50 HD channels on its platforms. More than 80% channels are common across the DTH operators.

In this scenario, TRAI noted that enabling sharing of satellite transponders and earth station facilities, which may include the headend, CAS and SMS, may reduce entry barriers and the CAPEX and OPEX of operators.

By the sharing of infrastructure among multiple DTH operators, the multiplexed streams of common channels aggregated by a DTH operator are shared by multiple DTH operators.

Platform-specific channels/services unique for each DTH operator can be multiplexed into separate streams and transmitted using additional transponder space on the same or adjoining satellite, TRAI has stated.

The multiplexed streams can be uplinked after carrying out encryption by the same or different CASs as per the agreement between them.

Sharing of satellite transponders among multiple DTH operators may address the issues relating to shortage of transponder space that sometimes necessitates the disproportionate compression of TV channel signals, resulting in degraded viewing experience for consumers, the authority stated.

However, the sharing of satellite capacity is possible only when the multiplexed streams have the same encoding and modulation standards. Airtel Digital TV, Tata Sky and Videocon d2h have the same encoding and modulation standards H.264 and DVB-S2, while Reliance Digital TV and Sun Direct share the same encoding and modulation standards of H.264 and DVB-S. Dish TV is the only platform to have MPEG-2 and DVB-S encoding and modulation.

The authority has sought stakeholders’ comments on whether infrastructure sharing is required among DTH operators.

Other issues for consultation

TRAI has sought views whether there is a requirement to ensure geographically targeted advertisements in the distribution networks, as some broadcasters have opined that geo-targeted advertisements may not be feasible in infrastructure sharing.

TRAI has also sought views on the possible methods for enabling geo-targeted advertisements in shared infrastructure set-ups.

Stakeholders can also give their views on the mechanisms that could be put in place for disconnection of TV channel signals of defaulting operators without affecting the other operators within that network after implementation of sharing of infrastructure.

Further, stakeholders can also clarify if there is any requirement for tripartite agreement to enable sharing of infrastructure among MSOs and HITS operators, among MSOs, and among DTH operators.

TRAI has solicited comments on techniques that could be put in place for identification of pirates and if there is any need for further strengthening of anti-piracy measures already in place to enable sharing of infrastructure.

Written comments on the consultation paper are invited from the stakeholders by 21 October and counter-comments, if any, may be submitted by 4 November.

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