Consumers should not be forced to watch anything: Trai chairman
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New Delhi: In the last 10 days, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has proposed three different sets of regulations on pricing and packaging of television channels, interconnection agreements between broadcasters and distribution networks and quality of service provided to the subscribers.
In these draft orders, Trai proposed that television households should pay only Rs.130 as monthly rental per set top box for 100 standard definition channels. The regulator also suggested a cap on carriage fee charged by distribution networks for transmitting television channels.
In an interview with Mint, Trai chairman R.S. Sharma talked about the agenda behind the new proposed regulations, issues faced by cable operators and set-top box interoperability.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Trai has released three different draft orders around tariff arrangements, interconnection agreements and quality of service. What triggered you to regulate these areas?
We took into consideration all the consultations we have had in the last few months with various stakeholders including television broadcasters, direct-to-home (DTH) operators and Internet protocol television operators.
We have primarily focused on five agendas—consumer choice, quality of services provided to the consumers, affordability of the services, transparency and non-discrimination. These have been our guiding principles for each set of regulations.
We wanted consumers to have complete choice while selecting the channels they want to see. Consumers should not be forced to watch anything. We have even focused on making the services more affordable by bringing the rule that only Rs.130 can be charged as monthly rental for 100 channels.
What kind of response have you received from the stakeholders for these regulations?
These set of regulations were aimed at reducing litigation in the sector because these will eliminate the non-transparent dealings and contracts. This will also strike a balance in the sector. We have tried to keep everyone’s interests intact.
I am not saying these rules are perfect. But they are quite an improvement over what was initially going on. We have given stakeholders some time to come up with their concerns if they have any. This will be the final round of consultations.
You have been holding regional consultations to understand the problems faced by cable operators for the last few months. Are there any problems/issues which you have tried to address in these set of regulations?
I personally have attended consultations in cities like Indore, Agra and Ranchi. What we found is that most of the local cable operators are uninformed. They don’t know about billing structures of broadcasters. Broadcasters strike out channels without telling them. There is no smooth interface between the stakeholders. In the draft regulations which we have released, we have more or less tried to tackle these issues. There are a few issues which we are trying to tackle with technology.
We are trying to build an online portal to make the registration process easier for the local cable operators. We are doing it in collaboration with India Post (currently, cable operators register with India Post). We thought that there are a large numbers of cable operators who can have an easy solution to their problems with this portal. Moreover, it will help us keep track of all the operators and will also be beneficial in analytics and research.
We have also asked all the stakeholders to digitally file all their interconnection agreements and contracts with Trai to bring more transparency in the sector. This will avoid backdating of contracts.
By when do you plan to implement the final regulations, given that you are conducting final consultations?
We have not decided as to when the final regulations will be implemented. We have currently opened the drafts for consultation and invited comments from stakeholders. This process will conclude by the end of October. Consequently, we will come up with the final orders. We want to give enough time to the stakeholders for a smooth transition of agreements and a timely migration. They will have to work out the existing agreements and frame new contracts. There is no hurry.
You had appointed experts to look into set-top box interoperability also. Are you planning to bring any changes soon?
We have seen a lot of development in that area. The Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT) is our nodal partner in this project. The expert panel will come up with a status update report in a few weeks. They have already started pilot testing for interoperability.
This has not happened anywhere in the world. But, at the same time, we are keeping in mind that this is important for the Indian market. Consumers can’t be stuck with the set-top boxes.