TRAI plans to allow third-party apps for TV channel selection even as DPOs raise concern

MUMBAI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Friday 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 is seeking the comments of the stakeholders on the issue of developing of app by third parties and consequent sharing of information using API between distribution platform operators (DPOs) and consumers to have ease in selection of channels of their choice and reduce TV viewing charges by optimising their subscription while allowing them to view channels of their interest.

The draft regulation (second amendment) will be open for comments of the stakeholders up to the 22nd August.

TRAI envisions a scalable model in which consumer (through Apps/Portals) can securely communicate with the platforms managed by DPOs. The IT application will facilitate consumers to choose channels/bouquets of their interest among the offerings by their respective DPO. The IT application may suggest an optimum configuration of bouquets based on channels desired by the subscriber to reduce the total monthly bill.

A key requirement for TV Channel Selection System is to provide a solution that can work throughout the country and be accessible by every customer of Broadcasting & Cables Services sector. Other requirements include evolving the simple and robust solution, which is stable, scalable and secure.

TRAI said it had set-up an internal committee to check the functioning of existing apps and websites of major DPOs. The committee observed that the process of selecting TV channels on various DPOs platform is cumbersome and the process of a subsequent change in the existing subscription is even more tedious.

The regulator stated that basic information such as details of existing TV channels subscription is also not visible to subscribers. To ensure proper choice to the consumers, the authority also issued directions and show cause notices to some DPOs.

This prompted TRAI to call a meeting of the DPOs to discuss the issue to provide choice to consumers. According to TRAI, all the DPOs time and again assured it that they are taking necessary actions and their IT systems are being modified to provide consumer-friendly options, nothing changed on the ground.

“Despite repeated efforts of TRAI, consumer complaints continued unabated and no major change to facilitate consumer choice happened on the ground,” TRAI said in the explanatory memorandum.

It was alleged that DPO has no interest to provide consumer-friendly options to consumers as easy channel selection options clashes with their own vested interest.

Consumers have complained to the TRAI that DPOs want to impose their preferred pack/bouquet to the subscribers without providing easy options as envisaged by TRAI. They felt that DPOs interest is to maximise their revenue.

In order to address the above issue, the Authority, in the larger public interest, felt the need to have a Channel Selection System developed by the third party to facilitate easy channel selection by consumers. Since the third party app will be accessible by every customer of Broadcasting & Cables Services sector, therefore, it will facilitate the easy choice to consumers.

To facilitate the functioning of third-party Apps, TRAI created Channel Selection System API Specifications document which prescribed common APIs with all DPOs. TRAI intends to mandate all the DPOs to compulsorily share information with the apps after authenticating the subscriber so that such apps can help in easy selection of the required TV channels.

The main objective of the API design is to enable the third-party developers to create applications to assist customers in making their choice and accordingly configure the subscription.

TRAI shared ‘Channel Selection System API specification’ document laying down specifications for Web APIs with all DPOs on 24.04.2019 to allow easy interchange of information between a Distribution Platform and a third-party app. Meeting with DPOs was also held on 30.04.2019 and 03.05.2019 to facilitate channel selection through API.

Following are the objectives of creating API:

• To ease TV viewing experience of the customers
• To ease selection of TV channels of their interest
• To help customers reduce TV viewing charges by optimizing their subscription

Concerns of the DPOs regarding new system

According to TRAI, some DPOs did not support the development of the system proposed by TRAI and raised a few concerns such as security of subscribers’ data in case it is shared. Certain modifications in the document were also suggested.

The TRAI noted that most of the suggestions given by DPOs have been analysed and addressed appropriately in the revised API specification document. Adequate time was also given to DPOs if suitable actions are taken by them to address the concern of the consumers for providing easy options to select TV channels.

The main concern of these DPOs during discussions was that the third party will have the information related to the consumer and its subscribed plan. The proposed regulation does not allow third-party developer (TPD) to know the mobile number or subscriber ID to the third party as all transaction will be done through session token.

The process flow is as follows:

I. Consumers shall be able to access Apps/Portals developed by TPDs.
II. Each Consumer shall be validated through OTP against Subscriber ID or Auth token.
III. The validation of consumer shall be done by DPO when triggered by TPD App/Portal.
IV. Upon successful validation, the consumer will get a session token to fetch further details. i.e. consumer’s current subscription.
V. Consumers shall be able to modify their current subscription either by removing existing channel/bouquet and/or adding new channel/bouquet.
VI. The TPD’s App/Portal shall submit the changes in the consumer’s subscription to their respective DPO.

The new regulations will come into force after thirty days from the date of their publication in the Official Gazette.

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