2020: A peep into TRAI's regulatory manoeuvres

From announcing NTO 2.0 to launching channel selector apps, TRAI had a rather eventful year

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Updated: Jan 11, 2021 9:37 AM

On 1st January 2020, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), under its then-chairman RS Sharma, had sent shockwaves through the broadcasting sector by going ahead with the amendments to the new tariff regime despite requests from the industry to defer any further regulatory interventions and allow the new tariff order (NTO) to settle down.

By notifying the amended tariff order (popularly known as NTO 2.0) and interconnection regulations on 1st January, the authority made it clear that there is no going back on the NTO 2.0 implementation. The NTO 2.0 was notified at a time when the broadcasting sector had barely recovered from the twin shocks of NTO 1.0, which came into effect from February 2019, and the ad slowdown.

Left with no other choice, the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) along with its members challenged the NTO 2.0 in Bombay High Court. The Sun TV Network had moved Madras High Court against the new regulation while the All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF) knocked the doors of Kerala High Court.
The broadcasters had challenged the TRAI's decision to reduce MRP cap to Rs 12 from Rs 19, the imposition of twin conditions on bouquet pricing, and restricting incentives only to a la carte. They contended that the amendments will impact their ad and subscription revenue and make the business unviable for smaller and niche channels.
The AIDCF, on the other hand, had prayed for a stay on clauses relating to placing of channels on Electronic Programme Guide (EPG), carriage fee cap of Rs 4 lakh, target market definition and calculating the discontinuation threshold for a television channel.
Subsequently, the Bombay High Court and Kerala High Court directed TRAI not to take coercive measures against the petitioners.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown meant that the courts were virtually hearing only urgent matters. After much delay, the Bombay High Court finally completed the hearing in the matter and reserved the order in October. The TV broadcasting sector eagerly awaits the Bombay HC judgement.
The regulator defended the amendments to the NTO by stating that it was only finetuning the TV channel pricing regulation. However, the amendments were made following a consumer backlash as the monthly TV subscription rates went through the roof due to the NTO 1.0 implementation.
The year also witnessed a change of guard at TRAI as RS Sharma retired on 30th September. He was replaced by PD Vaghela, a 1986 batch IAS officer from Gujarat cadre, for a period of three years.
During the year, the TRAI also undertook other significant regulatory activities relating to the broadcasting sector. Some of the key regulatory moves are as follows:
Review of TV audience measurement
In its recommendations to the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) on the review of TV audience measurement system in India, the TRAI had said that structural reforms are required in Broadcasters Audience Research Council (BARC) to mitigate the potential risk of conflict of interest, improve credibility, bring transparency, and instil confidence of all stakeholders in the TRP measurement system.

It had also suggested that BARC India should have at least 50% independent members including one member as a measurement technology expert, one statistician of national repute from among the top institutions of the country and two representatives from the Government/Regulator.

Among the other key recommendations, the TRAI had suggested that an Oversight Committee should be formed to guide BARC India in the areas of research, design and analysis, constantly improving the rating system.
The TRAI was also in favour of allowing multiple data collection agencies to ensure accurate collection of data. According to TRAI, competition and multiple agencies for data collection and processing would bring in new technologies, new research methodologies, new methods in analysis, new and better ways to ensure better data quality.
The TRAI had also proposed that the rating agency should be mandated to increase the sample size from the existing 44,000 to 60,000 by the end of 2020, and 1,00,000 by the end of 2022 using the existing technology.
Further, it stated that MIB should amend the DTH Licence and MSO registration so as to mandate set top boxes (STBs) capable of transferring viewership data and adoption of RPD technology.
STB interoperability
The TRAI had issued recommendations stating that all the STBs in India must support technical interoperability in principle. STB interoperability allows consumers to change their DTH or cable service provider without changing the STB.
It had also recommended to the MIB to include a suitable clause/condition in the permission/ Registration/ Cable Television Network Rule mandating all the DPOs (DTH as well as MSOs) to compulsorily facilitate service provisioning through the interoperable STBs either provided by DPOs or procured by the consumers from the open market.
MIB, the TRAI had said, may notify through licensing conditions or amendment in Cable Television Network Rules 1994 as per the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 1995 or through any other appropriate mechanism mandatory use of DVB CI+ 2.0 standards (with USB CAM) as per the Europan Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).
Reserve Price for auction of FM Radio channels
In April 2020, the regulator had issued its recommendations on 'Reserve Price for auction of FM Radio Channels' following a request from MIB to furnish fresh reserve price for 283 cities (260 new + 23 existing). The recommendations were issued following an extensive consultation process.
In its recommendations, the TRAI had fixed the reserve price for FM radio channels for each of the 273 new cities at 80% of the valuation for each city. For the cities situated in North East (NE) region and Jammu & Kashmir, the reserve price was fixed at 40% of the valuation for each city.

The TRAI had also suggested doing away with the existing ceiling limit of 15% of total FM Radio channels in the country for excluding such permission holders to participate in FM radio auction.

It had also recommended that broadcasters should be permitted to use any technology (analogue or digital or both) for radio broadcasting on the frequency allocated to them through an auction in the future. In case Radio broadcasters opt for digital technology, they should be permitted to broadcast more than one channel subject to technical feasibility on a single frequency allocated to them, the TRAI had proposed.

Consultation paper on MIB back references
Just as the year was about to end, the TRAI issued a consultation paper on MIB back reference on its recommendations dated 19.11.2014 on 'Regulatory Framework for Platform Services' and MIB reference on its recommendations on 'Platform Services offered by DTH Operators' dated 13.11.2019.
The TRAI had received two references from the MIB dated 23rd October 2020. TRAI had said that it will provide its recommendations to MIB after a due consultation process.
In one of the references, the MIB informed TRAI that after consideration of the recommendation on 'Regulatory Framework for Platform Services' by Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC), the recommendations have been accepted, except Recommendation No. 8.
In the second reference, the MIB has informed TRAI that they are examining the TRAI’s recommendations on 'Regulatory Framework for Platform Services' for their implementation in respect of Multi-System Operators (MSOs)/Local Cable Operators (LCOs).
The MIB had proposed to adopt the certain recommendations on four issues, in respect of Platform Services offered by MSOs also by appropriately replacing the word "DTH" with "MSO" and requested TRAI to furnish its views on the above proposal.
The TRAI has defined Platform services (PS) as programs that are transmitted by Distribution Platform Operators (DPOs) exclusively to their own subscribers and does not include Doordarshan channels and registered TV channels. PS shall not include foreign TV channels that are not registered in India.
Launch of Channel Selector app
As part of its efforts to ease the process of channel/package selection, the regulator had launched the Channel Selector app in June. The app allows consumers to view their DPO’s offerings, fetch the existing subscription details, choose & optimise channel and Bouquet selection, modify existing selection and set selection with respective DPOs.
The app also suggests an optimum configuration i.e., combination of Channels/Bouquet based on consumer’s selection so as to reduce total monthly bill. In addition, the app also suggests a combination of Channels/Bouquet based on consumer’s interest keeping in view geographical, regional, language, genres, etc. preferences.
Initially, the consumers of DTH operators like Airtel Digital TV, Dish TV-D2h, Sun Direct and Tata Sky and cable TV service providers like Asianet, InDigital, Hathway Digital, DEN Networks, Siti Networks, GTPL, TCCL, and Kerala Vision Digital TV were be able to avail of the services of the app.

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