DTH, cable ops oppose TRAI’s proposal to allow TV channel selection through third-party apps

MUMBAI: The direct to home (DTH) and cable operators are not in favour of allowing TV channel selection through third-party apps. In their submission to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the operators have voiced concerns third-party apps and consequent sharing of information using API between distribution platform operators (DPOs) and consumers.

In August, the TRAI had issued draft (Second Amendment) to the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services Standards of Quality of Service and Consumer Protection (Addressable Systems) Regulations 2017. Through this draft regulation (second amendment), TRAI had comments of the stakeholders on the issue.

The aim behind the draft regulation is to provide consumers the ease in channel selection and reduce TV viewing charges by optimising their subscription while allowing them to view channels of their interest.

DTH operators Dish TV, Tata Sky, and Bharti Telemedia have provided comments. On the cable side, Hathway Digital, DEN Networks, GTPL Hathway, and Siti Networks have made submissions.

In its submission, Dish TV stated that there is no need of a regulation for API application as there is no non-compliance on the part of the DTH operators which invite the intervention by the authority for any corrective measures.

It also said that there is no need or a requirement for laying down a mandatory stipulation for the DTH operators to adopt a new API application mechanism when the DTH operators already have in place adequate and effective mechanism satisfying the same purpose.

Dish TV submitted that there are issues like data confidentiality, security and misuse involved in allowing third-party developers (TPDs) to build channel selection apps. It further added that TPDs don’t have the locus standi as they are not under TRAI ambit, therefore, they cannot be brought within the judicial scrutiny under the TRAI Act.

The authority has not prescribed any framework for the operation of the proposed TPDs, no rules and regulation governing the services to be provided by them and there is no clarity regarding fixing their accountability and counter checks or corrective measure in case of any negligence/failure and/or technical constraints on their part to execute any command.

Tata Sky submitted that it strongly objects to TRAI’s adverse suggestion in its ‘Explanatory Memorandum’ that distribution platforms have no interest to provide consumer-friendly options to consumers as easy channel selection options clashes with their own vested interest.

It further stated that on the one hand, TRAI is inviting comments from stakeholders about how channel selection process can be simplified as a part of the consultation in respect to tariff-related issues, on the other hand, it chooses to foist third party channel selection eco-system.

“These third-party App developers are unknown entities having no credibility and may well harbor dubious intentions. The fact that TRAI has ignored our previous inputs and still pushed ahead with this draft regulation makes it appear as a pre-determined exercise. This is contrary to the spirit of consultation and consensus-building which is fundamental to regulation-making,” Tata Sky said.

Tata Sky said it has put in time, effort and investments in developing the Tata Sky App. The App has continuously been improved upon and made more robust and intuitive based on the feedback from subscribers, media and the regulators. This App has been in existence for the past several years and with the new regulations coming into force, we quickly updated our App to conform to the new framework.

It also contended that there are two main themes of the ‘Channel Selection System API specification’ which are of gravest concern are: (a) Security of subscriber data. (b) Third-party app’s suggestion of an optimum configuration of bouquets to subscribers.

Tata Sky also argued that allowing the TPD to suggest optimum configuration of channels/bouquet seriously undermines competition by encouraging choice in favour of certain selected channels/bouquets. TPD is being placed in a dominant position by being allowed to wield considerable influence in the choice of particular channels/bouquets offered by certain Distribution Platforms over others. Since TPD is not a service provider under the TRAI Act, TRAI will have no control over how the TPD optimizes channel/bouquet suggestion.

“There is a real possibility of a search bias resulting from directing subscribers to certain channels/bouquets over others and, thereby, disadvantaging business of certain Broadcasters and Distribution Platforms who do not offer such channels/bouquets,” the DTH operator stated.

Bharti Telemedia has urged the TRAI to withdraw the Draft Regulation and formulate some guiding principles for DPO’s apps/websites to achieve the very purpose for which the TPD App is being envisaged.

It further submitted that TPDs could infringe upon the privacy & data of users as they would have access to subscriber plans/ details across all/multiple Distribution Platforms. For any data leaks/misuse by the TPD, there is no clarity w.r.t enforcement of any corrective/remedial action by TRAI or any other authority for lack of jurisdiction. The TPD action can expose us to severe breaches as well as impairment of our business interests. It is not clear as to who assumes the responsibility/ liability for any breaches made by /through the TDP Apps.

It also said that the TRAI should provide a comprehensive framework to address the business, commercial and critical aspects related to data sensitivity and protection as well. The business model of the TPD also assumes significance to maintain the integrity of the Proposal. “Any insufficiency in the financial model may prompt the TPD provider to work against the interest of the DPO or it may prompt them to discriminately favor one DPO over another. Such situations are likely to invoke conflict among DPOs or between the DPOs and the TPDs.”

It also noted that there is no such precedent of a mandatory TPD App requirement in any regulated sector. The company also stated that the examples of Apps like ‘Trivago’, ‘Make My Trip’ etc. are not relevant as they are not mandatory in nature. Such Apps are merely aggregating the Service/ product information and offering services on a commercial basis.

Bharti Telemedia submitted that the salient features being endorsed in favor of a proposed TPD App is the ease of customer experience and plan optimization feature. It stated that all such features can be duly incorporated by the DPOs in their website /apps.

“To have a consistent approach, TRAI, can formulate a broader set of guidelines for app/website of DPOs. The TPD App is not offering anything unique which cannot be built by the DPOs in their current systems. Therefore, the TPD App is not desirable when the existing systems of DPOs can be scaled up to meet the requirements visualized through TPD App,” the DTH operator stated.

Hathway Digital and DEN Networks have submitted that all the national MSOs already have an app (either Mobile or on their website) developed for their subscribers to enable them to make a selection of their desired channels including addition & deletion of the channel from their Pack on similar line as has been suggested by the authority.

Hence, working on a third party APP would be an exercise in futility, which they can utilise in upgrading their exiting APP to make it more robust or to modify it to be in full sync with the TRAI’s requirement. It further noted that the third party app might also risk leakage of subscriber information and may compromise with our subscriber data which would have a taxing effect on our businesses.

The two MSOs also argued that the third-party app Developer company would be tempted to use such subscriber data to recover its cost of production by making the same available in the marketplace, thereby putting the subscribers at risk of being exploited by various service providers.

Hathway and DEN also apprehend that online aggregators will slowly gather a lot of subscriber data and can get into various suggestions or influences by way of digital marketing, calling etc to subscribers leading to circumventing the real choice being available to the consumer, which TRAI intends to protect through this amendment.

“In view of submissions made above, we suggest that the direction for employing an application developed by the third party should not be made mandatory and should be left at the discretion of the MSOs to either develop it or further improve the same at least for a Distributor with a minimum base of one million subscribers,” the two have stated.

GTL Hathway stated that using a third party App for channel selection process inter-alia involves the integration of the systems of the DPOs and that of the third party App owner(s), which not only involves huge investment in terms of monies but also considerable time for integration to achieve the result as expected by the Authority. Additionally, such integration also involves upgradation of existing systems including SMS, CAS and related systems which requires sizable CAPEX as well as time to design, test and implement.

“We reiterate that till the time there is effective implementation of the new regulatory regime on a non-discriminatory basis, the current consultation itself is premature and a futile activity. As far as our observation(s) on the suggested API specifications is/are concerned, we wish to state we will not able to comment at this juncture,” the MSO stated.

MSO Siti Networks has submitted that the requirement of the hour is to ensure that every player in the value chain is brought under the regulatory framework and a sustainable transparent audit and inspection mechanism is developed to ensure the compliance of the regulations for the benefit and ease of consumers at large and thereby providing level playing field to all the players.

“We appreciate the intent behind the present amendment, however, we strongly believe that many regional players who have not complied with the existing provisions and are yet to establish their websites and mobile applications should not be relieved from compliance of the present provisions and some stringent action also to be taken against the non-compliers,” it noted.

“Further we would like to submit that the actual benefit of TRAI’s efforts will reach to the customers and all other stake holders only once the regulations are implemented in holistic approach. If few DPOs including the large MSO’s are being considered for compliance of the regulations whereas such players (who are quite dominant in their respective markets) are not complying with the regulatory framework, the purpose of introduction of the regulations would be defeated and lead to discrimination.”