New Delhi: India’s telecom regulator raised a hurdle before phone firms planning to distribute television signals using internet technologies on Tuesday, when it clarified that such a service would contravene current broadcast and distibution rules.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) made the clarification in response to a query by Mint, a day after internet service providers protested banning them from offering the so-called ‘Internet protocol television’ or IPTV services. Trai had, in its recommendations on the ISP sector a week ago, pointed out that IPTV services fell into regulatory “grey areas”.
State-owned telecom firms, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd, have already rolled out such services in several cities across the country and private-sector operators Bharti Airtel Ltd and Reliance Communications Ltd plan to do so during the second half of this financial year.
Trai said, though the Cable Act of 1995 does not explicitly ban the use of internet technologies in cable networks, the interpretation of associated clauses make the deployment of IPTV technically impossible.
“IPTV services fall within the provisions of the Cable TV Act of 1995. The Act requires that any cable-based television service must also be able to cater to subscribers who do not have a set-top box installed,” Trai’s advisor in charge of converged networks, S.K. Gupta said. This condition will apply equally to IPTV provided by Internet service providers (ISPs), telecom operators or any other TV distributor, he added.
In order to spare low-end consumers the burden of buying costly set-top boxes used to control access to pay-channels, the government had, in 2003, made it mandatory for all cable-based distribution systems to have an additional non-encrypted package of TV channels, which can be accessed by the subscriber without the aid of a set-top box. But, IPTV cannot be delivered without a set-top box that will decipher television signals at the customer’s end.
The Act also requires any encrypted cable distribution network to use only equipment certified by the government of India’s Bureau of Indian Standards, which does not certify IPTV set top boxes as of now, Gupta said, adding the matter had already been brought to the notice of the ministry of information and broadcasting.
The ISP Association of India urged the government to amend the laws to allow such services to be launched, especially since many of the small ISPs already hold content distribution licences, as several of them are cable operators as well. Trai’s IPTV recommendation, like all policies it proposes, has to be accepted by the government before it becomes law.