The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) has sought the recommendations of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on issues relating to transmission of local channels or ground based channels operated at the level of cable TV operators/ MSOs. In its reference to TRAI, the Ministry has sought to know whether there was a need to put in place a comprehensive set of provisions for local channels, which would cover issues related to registration mechanism, including eligibility requirements, fee, terms and conditions to be provided for such channels, including the definition of local or ground based channels and their area of operation.
In the said reference to TRAI, MIB has also sought its views with regard to the issue of transmission of local channels at local cable operator level in the Digital Addressable System (DAS) regime. TRAI in its recommendations dated July 25, 2008 had, inter-alia, recommended that Local Channel Operators (LCOs) shall be permitted to transmit their ground based channels. However, in the current DAS regime only digital addressable signals can be carried out on the cable network, which is generated at the MSO head end. The Ministry has also asked TRAI to state whether there was a case for putting a cap on the total number of ground based channels operated by a single MSO/ cable operator.
TRAI has also been asked to examine whether there was a need to prescribe separate eligibility criteria for cable operators transmitting local news and current affairs channels at their level. Specific recommendations have been sought with regard to eligibility criteria, terms and conditions, including foreign investment levels, net-worth criteria and requirement of security clearance and so on for such channels.
The need for putting in place a regulatory framework for local channels being operated at the level of cable TV operators has been engaging attention of the MIB for quite some time. This has assumed a greater significance in view of digitisation of cable TV currently underway across the country. At present, cable TV operators/ MSOs are transmitting local news, videos and other locally developed content as separate TV channels, in addition to satellite TV channels obtained from broadcasters. These local channels are presently not subject to a regulatory framework unlike private satellite TV channels permitted under the uplinking and downlinking guidelines of the MIB. As a result, local channels continue to mushroom all over the country without having registration/ licence.
Since the area/ jurisdiction within which the programme generated at the level of cable operators can be transmitted has not been defined in the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, it is possible for LCOs/ MSOs operating at the local levels to broadcast local channels over a larger geographical area, that is, at regional/ state/ national levels by transmitting the same content over their entire network. Instances have been brought to the notice of the Ministry that some cable operators are also venturing into transmission of local channels over wider geographical area, which includes inter-state and intra state transmission by sharing the same content with others on their network. In such a scenario, local channels are basically operating as state/ regional/ national channels like permitted private satellite TV channels without getting any permission.
The intent of allowing cable operators to generate and transmit local programmes is to keep the local people informed of relevant local issues. However, this intent is not fulfilled when LCOs and MSOs start networking of the content to cover a larger geographical area. Given the present state of technological advancement, the tendency to network content at a larger geographical area has gained strength.