TRAI issues draft regulation to cover DRM based networks under audit regime

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MUMBAI: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services Interconnection (Addressable Systems) (Amendment) Regulations, 2019.

Under the draft regulation, the authority has included Digital Rights Management (DRM) specifications in Schedule III. It noted that Schedule III of the Interconnection Regulations 2017 does not provide for the requirements/specifications of DRM based systems.

The authority during its consultations on audit manual received the feedback that owing to its benefits the IPTV based distribution platform operators (DPOs) are switching to DRM technology. It is necessary that the Audit regime covers the DRM based networks and provides for enabling provisions for such operators.

The TRAI noted that DRM is a systematic approach to copyright protection for digital media. The purpose of DRM is to prevent unauthorised redistribution of digital media and restrict the ways consumers can copy content they’ve purchased.

DRM products were developed in response to the rapid increase in online piracy of commercially marketed material, which proliferated through the widespread use of peer-to-peer file exchange programs.

Typically, DRM is implemented by embedding code that prevents copying, specifies a time period in which the content can be accessed or limits the number of devices the media can be installed on.

DRM technology focuses on making it impossible to steal content in the first place, a more efficient approach to the problem than the hit-and-miss strategies aimed at apprehending online poachers after the fact.

A consultation paper on “Interconnection framework for Broadcasting TV Services distributed through Addressable Systems” was issued by TRAI on 4th May 2016. This consultation process resulted in the notification of the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services Interconnection (Addressable Systems) Regulations, 2017 (1 of 2017) dated the 3rd March 2017 [herein after referred to as Interconnection Regulations 2017].

During the consultation undertaken to prepare the Audit Manual certain comments and observations reflect some issues in the Schedule III of the Interconnection Regulations 2017.

The draft regulation related to the amendment to schedule-III of the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services Interconnection (Addressable Systems) Regulations, 2017, has been issued on the following issues:
1. Digital Rights Management Systems
2. Transactional capacity of CAS and SMS system
3. Fingerprinting – Support for Overt and Covert fingerprinting in STBs
4. Watermarking network logo for all pay channels

The authority stated that the objective of this draft regulation is to seek comments of all the stakeholders on the above-mentioned issues.

Scheduling of Audit

During the comments and discussion on the Draft Audit Manual, many stakeholders have suggested that the authority should specify the schedule of audit for DPOs to ensure that the audit is held effectively and in a timely manner. Clause (1) of Regulation 15 of Interconnection regulation provides that a DPO will get audit completed once every year. Stakeholders that are desirous that the Authority may specify the audit schedule refer to the limited availability of auditors and also that if all DPOs chose to get their systems audited during the last quarter of a year, there will be a severe capacity constraint.

On the contrary, most of the DPOs have averred that being responsible stakeholders, they will get their systems audited properly and in a time-bound manner in compliance with the regulations. Further that the new audit regime helps the distributors in staving-off unwarranted audits by multiple pay broadcasters. Therefore, it is in their interest that they maintain current and valid audit compliance all the time.

There is another argument as regards the gap between the two audits caused by the DPOs. One of the comments received by TRAI was that it is possible for a DPO to schedule audits of two different calendar years in consecutive months. That is the first one in December of the current year and the next one in January of the next calendar year. In such hypothetical cases, the systems of the distributor will remain out of the ambit of audit for a long period of 23 months.

Given that audit is an important foundation in establishing the trust-based regime under the new regulatory framework, the authority considers that the annual Audit caused by Distributor shall be scheduled in such a manner that there is a gap of at least two quarters between the audit of two consecutive calendar years.

Fingerprinting – Support for Overt and Covert fingerprinting in STBs

There are issues related to the availability of both overt and covert fingerprinting on all the STBs. Based on industry information, it has been ascertained that not all the deployed STBs provide both types of fingerprinting. Before the Interconnection Regulation 2017, the STBs with overt fingerprinting would suffice to comply with the regulation. Therefore, some of the distributors have represented that the set-top boxes deployed prior to the year 2017 does not support covert fingerprinting as they were not mandated by The Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable Services) Interconnection (Digital Addressable Cable Television Systems) Regulations, 2012. The BIS standards also did not mandate both overt and covert fingerprinting.

Quite-a-few number of distributors have requested the authority to review the schedule III of Interconnection Regulation 2017 in view of the above-mentioned inconsistency. These stakeholders are of the opinion that the system requirement of covert fingerprinting specified in Interconnection Regulation 2017 should be applicable only on the set-top boxes which are deployed after the coming into effect of the Interconnection Regulation, 2017 and not on the boxes deployed before the regulation. Some stakeholders have opined that given that athe verage life of an STB is around 3 years, all such old STBs will get retired within the next two years.

Noting the inconsistency, the Authority is of the view that the STB deployed after coming into effect of Interconnection Regulation 2017 should only be mandated to support the covert fingerprinting.

Transactional capacity of CAS and SMS systems

Para 8 of Section A of the Schedule III of the Interconnection Regulations 2017 specifies that ‘The CAS and the SMS should be able to activate or deactivate services or STBs of at least 10% of the subscriber base of the distributor within 24 hours.’

While the requirement seems as reasonable, this puts an unwarranted investment on part of certain large DPOs. The issue becomes really alarming for most of the DTH service providers and top four to five MSOs. Each one of these operators have a subscriber base of more than five million customers. Hence, they have requested the authority to review this threshold limit.

In general, these large operators do not need to activate/ deactivate/ re-configure more than 1 % of their active subscribers on an everyday basis. Therefore, the operators have represented that prescribing to deploy equipment to cater to 10% of activation/ deactivation is uncalled for.

However, some stakeholders have suggested that most of the subscribers are on monthly pre-paid packages these days and by the law of averages every customer is required to pay/recharge once every month and may require to be configured at the SMS level once every month. Therefore, such stakeholders have argued that a minimum of 3.3 % capacity of CAS/ SMS is necessary. The Authority, having examined the issue, considers that the CAS and the SMS should be able to activate or deactivate services or STBs of at least (5%) of the subscriber base of the distributor within 24 hours.

Watermarking of network logo by the DPO

The ‘watermarking’ logo can be inserted at the encoder end before combining all the signals by a DPO. Alternatively, a DPO can introduce the ‘Watermarking’ through their middleware provided in the STB. Para 13 of part B of Schedule-III of Interconnection Regulations 2017, states that ‘The watermarking network logo for all pay channels shall be inserted at encoder end only’.

Many DPOs have requested TRAI that the ‘Watermarking’ network logo can be inserted by the encoder itself, only when the encoders have this feature. However, many of encoders deployed currently by such MSOs are part of their legacy system and do not have the provision for watermarking logo insertion.

Considering the issue and the cost implications on legacy systems, the Authority is of the view that the encoders deployed after coming into effect of Interconnection regulations 2017 should only be mandated to support watermarking network logo for all pay channels at the encoder end.


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