No cause for dissatisfaction on carriage fee: Trai chairman

MUMBAI: There is no cause for dissatisfaction on the carriage fee issue as this is the first time it has been brought under regulation, Trai chairman J S Sarma said.

Multi-system operators (MSOs) will have to carry a minimum of 500 channels from 1 January 2013, which means a large number of channels will be carried.

There is also the must-carry provision, Sarma told analysts on a conference call.

While the MSOs have the freedom to decide on the carriage fee, they will have to publish it. It has to be transparent and it is non-discriminatory across all channels. The carriage fee pricing is also frozen for two years and filed with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai). So no longer it is a flush of money going upfront in some kind of an informal arrangement.

If a broadcaster asks for a channel to be carried, there is obviously a carriage cost that will have to be paid. But there is no carriage fee in case a MSO seeks for a channel, Sarma pointed out.

The regulator can also intervene if the carriage fee is unreasonable, he added.

It may be recalled that the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) had expressed shock at Trai‘s tariff order for digital addressable systems as it has legitimised carriage fee.

Will consumers pay more for their cable TV? "There is enough competition on the ground. Consumers can go to DTH or to another MSO in places where there is competition among MSOs. Otherwise, they will lose to DTH. It will be a lost golden opportunity for them. They would also lose broadband. If the pricing is exorbitant and necessary, then Trai will intervene," Sarma averred.

Sarma pointed out that the current cable TV ARPU is Rs 165. Trai‘s order has prescribed for Rs 100 for 100 free-to-air (FTA) channels and a minimum of Rs 150 for FTA and pay channels. "Cable operators are flexible in some pockets (poorer pockets like slums) and further drop their rates to the consumer. They will like to continue with it," he added.

Will there be a shift in the deadline since the tariff order has just come and there is just two months to go? "I don‘t anticipate any change in date. The necessary set-top boxes (STBs) are ordered (there is a requirement of around 10 million STBs in the four metros that fall under digitisation in the first phase). Of course, it is for the Ministry to take a call on this (deadline date). But I believe there is no need not to stick to the deadline," Sarma said.

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