TRAI has sent its final recommendations on revamping cable TV services to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. If acted upon by the Government, it will not only revamp the cable TV industry but also put India on the map of developed countries with predominant share of digital transmission of entertainment content.
Once implemented, the recommendations would enable broadband Internet services to be accessible to all subscribers in the country – estimated at 76 million currently – leading up to the introduction of ‘triple-play services’ with a single operator provides television, Internet and telecom services to subscribers. India currently has 4.5 million broadband subscribers.
TRAI Chairman Nripendra Misra pointed out, “Unlike in the developed markets, only a very small portion of the 78 million TV homes in India have two-way digital cable. The rest of the industry is largely analogue. Analogue cable carries 40-80 channels, while digital cable has the capacity to deliver 300 channels. The Authority’s concern was that there is neither any technological upgradation nor any capital inflow into the industry.”
Looking for innovation and investments from within the country and overseas, the recommendations are in line with the consultation paper it had floated on restructuring of cable TV services as on March 4, 2008.
TRAI has recommended a well-defined and supportive framework to restructure the cable industry, which at present suffers from limited technological capabilities, with practically no scope for upgradation of the current analogue system to carry transmission signals. It has given cable service providers five years to migrate to the digital format and provide signal strengths as prescribed by the Bureau of Indian Standards. This recommendation to ensure digitalisation of the cable TV industry will go a long way in revamping transmission quality that users have been complaining about.
The regulator has recommended a separate licensing framework for cable TV operators (LCOs) and multi-system operators (MSOs), with separate entry fees for those providing services locally, at the state and national levels ranging between Rs 10,000 and Rs 1 lakh, respectively. It has also granted recognition to MSOs and mandated that they should be made to migrate from the analogue to the digital format in five years. Till now there was no distinction between a local cable operator and an MSO.
TRAI has also recommended that all cable operators must have a complaint redressal system in place and also provide detailed bills to their customers, which should include subscription charges, service tax and entertainment tax. Besides, it added that all cable operators would be mandated to send their records to the I&B ministry and TRAI at such intervals as specified by the Government.