Major MSOs and broadcasters have strongly objected to TRAI’s (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) proposal to amend the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act to keep IPTV services out of the Act to facilitate its growth in the country.
“IPTV service is essentially cable TV service except that it is provided through a different technology. The fact that IPTV is technically unable to meet one or two technologically specific requirements of Cable Act does not mean that all the other consumer related obligations in that Act should be swept aside,” stakeholders commented.
“IPTV is similar to cable services in terms of content and mode of delivery, it would be appropriate to categorise it as a cable service rather than a telecom service under the Telegraph Act. The anomalies arising out of Sections 4A & 9 of the Cable Act should be addressed to remove the apparent inconsistencies rather than covering IPTV as a part of unified license,” they further said.
TRAI had observed that the Cable TV Act in its present form did not sufficiently address several issues relating to IPTV because when the Act was prepared in 1995, IPTV service had not even been conceived.
Issues like technological requirement of IPTV to deliver content through a set top box leads to non-compliance with the requirement of the Cable Act, 1995 about free-to-air channels not needing an addressable system. Use of different protocols by different companies and lack of standardisation for IPTV services also violates the requirement of the Act about use of equipment conforming to Indian standards.
But stakeholders felt that if IPTV platforms were excluded from the Cable Act, then to enjoy the privilege of equal access to content, they (telecom service providers) should also take the same responsibilities as cable and DTH platforms.
“Consumer protection regulations applicable to cable platforms (minimum number of channels in basic tier / maximum fee chargeable for basic tier / Tariff Orders) should equally apply to IPTV platforms,” stakeholders held.
“Given the nature of IPTV services, which is akin to cable services, the effort on the part of the Regulator should be to propose amendments that would serve the purpose of keeping IPTV within Cable Services domain rather than to suggest the ones which would take them away from the Cable Network Regulation Act. Except the two sections of the Act as mentioned by the Authority in the consultation paper, there is no difficulty in applying other provisions of the Act to cable services,” the further said.
The stakeholders also pointed out the anomaly in FDI limits in the broadcast industry. “A telecom company, which also wishes to provide IPTV services through cable should also be subjected to an FDI limit of 49 per cent as raising the FDI limit in cable sector from 49 per cent to 74 per cent, would be against the basic policy of restricting FDI in the media sector. However, carving out IPTV from the purview of Cable Services would give undue advantage to IPTV and the telecom companies willing to provide IPTV services would be able to enjoy 74 per cent FDI, whereas cable companies providing IPTV services would be subjected to the 49 per cent limit.”
Stakeholders have also expressed their apprehension that IPTV service providers could turn content generators in future and thus could have inappropriate advantage. “Sectoral caps on FDI for the production and telecast of news content is at 26 per cent. It is apprehended that the IPTV service provider is in a position to create news content / produce news content by sitting in the news room and upload the same from their stream servers. This would completely circumvent the FDI regulation on news content and the very philosophy of the Government of India will be defeated and the existing Downlinking Policy of the Government of India dated November 11, 2005 would also get diluted.”
According to the stakeholders, instead of holding back cable operators from providing IPTV services, there is need to amend the Cable Television Act to provide all services including voice, video and data as it was included in the telecom policy. Applicability of FDI norms, downlinking guidelines and programme codes will have to be enforced on content services through any means… “otherwise the government will have no control on any content coming on the Internet through IPTV or streaming,” they observed.
The stakeholders who sent their comments include ASC Enterprises, MSO Alliance, Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI), Hathway, Reliance Infocomm, Ortel, Zee, Star, and Tata Teleservices among others.
TRAI proposes amendments in Cable TV Act to facilitate launch of IPTV in India