Cable Industry needs Restructuring

By: Col K K Sharma


The regulations should be made to benefit the consumers and protect the interest of thousands of small entrepreneurs who have been building up the large Cable TV infrastructure for the last twenty years, so that lakhs of people working in small networks and in supporting organizations do not go out of employment to please a few powerful and rich business houses.

This concern was amply visible in the parliament during discussions on the Digitalization Bill recently, where every MP, particularly those coming from rural areas voiced their fear of small cable operators losing their business to the big companies and millions of poor subscribers deprived of cable TV entertainment as they would not afford to purchase the STBs. Please be known that the Minister of Information and Broadcasting had assured the Parliament that this would not happen and these concerns will be adequately addressed in the rules and regulations.

LCOs who control 80% of the market even today, are spread all across the nation and do not have the facility of broadband in their regions. They do not know the English language full of legal terms of consultation papers put up by TRAI on their website before it gives recommendations to the government on various regulations. TRAI has not considered putting such important papers in vernacular languages to be understood by the stake holders of every level. This has resulted in most of the regulations benefitting only the big players who have many lawyers to guide them in legal matters and are generally made members of various task forces. These big players also get the support of various industry associations who lobby for their point of view because these players are also manning most of the committees in the associations.

Since the government appears to be serious in implementing addressability in cable TV industry after 20 years of its existence; adequate precautions must taken to ensure that the alternate service providers are not given undue advantage and cable TV industry is given enough protection during the implementation of digitalization.

Some of the issues that concern the consumers and LCOs have not been covered by the Consultation Paper of TRAI which will bring out various points for the new regulations. These are:-

ISSUES NOT COVERED AT

ALL BY TRAI

Consumer Issues- BLACK OUT of Millions of subscribers on sunset date.

Definition of Broadcasters (not to include Agents), MSOs (not to provide last mile networking) and LCOs ( to provide last mile for all converging services of TV channels, broadband and voice)

No QoS for broadcasters

Obligations of foreign broadcasters.

Declaration by all broadcasters of their present subscriber base, revenue from cable and other streams like IPTV, DTH, Video streaming and foreign distribution for effective monitoring of DAS progress.

Technology Issues

Standards of Equipment

Registration of equipment vendors including headend and STB manufacturers for standardized equipment of quality adhering to BIS.

Testing Facilities for equipment standards.

BECIL Certification

Infrastructure Issues

Cross media Holdings to be implemented.

Allowing CAM and CI based Headends and STBs for interoperability and cutting down the cost of digitalization.

Spectrum allocation

Redressal of consumer and LCOs grievances

FDI

Uniform Taxation

Issue of Minimum Guarantee demanded by Broadcasters

FTA Operators/ Arasu cable issue of Tamil Nadu state

DAS Licensing

Refusal for content by broadcasters on frivolous grounds.

Piracy- As perceived by broadcasters.

Advertisement duration regulations on pay channels

DD Direct + , a Non Addressable platform is directly competing with small cable operators.

MDU model of DTH Players is unfair competition

Interoperability of STBs

Power Consumption of millions of STBs(State govts not taken in confidence)

The above necessitates a relook on the regulatory aspects of digital addressability and require the industry to be restructured to fulfill the future requirements.

It is perhaps, the first time the pay channels will have a real feel of the market forces. So far they had a free run arm twisting the cable operators in accepting their large bouquets of channels. Consumers in India still do not know the rates of pay channels because they are paying for only a package of channels served by the operators. Regulations have to control the present process for the next five years to let the networks develop fully, so that Indian consumers get what they want at a price they can afford. Thus this is the right time to frame regulations for a completely revamped industry with its existing players having a new role, but mostly in line with whatever they have been doing best till now. We have suggested the following role for various stake holders:-

Broadcasters : Should not include Agents or distributors of broadcasters who only aggregate TV channels. A broadcaster is not only the one who broadcasts using satellites or terrestrial media, but also via internet, mobile devices or Wi-Fi.

MSO : MSO is best suited for providing backhaul services to the LCOs. They should be licensed only for these services including TV, Internet and Broadband. They can be categorized into National, Regional, State and District level MSOs.

Last Mile Operators : May or may not have a headend. They are the carrier of last mile services of cable and broadband for the MSOs, Telcos, ISPs etc. They can be Franchisee or Independent Cable Operators.

Government cannot force a technology on a private industry. It must take cable networks in its own fold and make them develop into converged networks who provide last mile services to consumers on behalf of all including MSOs, Broadcasters, ISPs, Telecom Operators, BWA operators and IPTV operators.

The migration must be an evolving process. We must retain analog where ever the consumers and the service providers are happy with it. Digitalisation requires large scale to operate. Present structure of the industry does not support total digitalization. Many preparations are required for achieving this like-

Incentivise the operators who migrate to digital.

Facilitate development of manufacturing within India creating a good research and development environment.

Make cable networks part of the national broadband infrastructure

Integrate the cable networks with telecom networks and national fiberoptic network.

Facilitate Content development for the converged services.

Integrate the cable networks with e-governance networks of the states.

Encourage consolidation of the networks.

Now since total digitalisation has already been made a law, we donít want it to get fizzled out on frivolous account. Government must frame rules & regulations that help everyone to grow, even if it takes more time for some stake holders to complete the process.

Many places where the cable networks are too small because of the geography and demographics, we must ensure that they are not harassed unnecessarily by either any government official or a broadcaster for not sticking to the deadlines.

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Col Sharma is a telecom engineer and a law graduate who has been the Chief Editor of Cable Quest Magazine for the last 15 years.

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