Trai: Content on IPTV to fall under I&B

NEW DELHI: Any content on IPTV will be regulated under the uplinking / downlinking guidelines issued by Information & Broadcasting ministry, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has proposed.

In a "position paper" on IPTV, the regulator has also clarified that no further licence or registration is required for cable operators or telecom service providers to offer IPTV.

Any legally licensed telecom service provider or cable TV operator registered under Cable Television Networks Act, 1995 can provide IPTV service without requiring any further license or registration, Trai has said.


Multi-system operators (MSOs) have objected to Trai‘s contention that IPTV is not a cable operation and that it is a closed user group, contrary to cable TV.

The MSOs hold that under Cas, in the encrypted feed, cable too is a closed user group operation, as it is based on a decision by a consumer deciding what to view and the MSO / LCO giving him access to that alone.

These initial responses come from MSOs on the heels of the fact that just recently, secretary, Information & Broadcasting department had told a delegation of MSO Alliance and Cable Operators Federation of India that it could not deal with content on IPTV as the platform is under the telecom ministry.

I&B secretary Asha Sawrup had said that the matter is under consideration of a three-ministry inter-ministerial committee under the aegis of the Prime Minister‘s Office, and the committee is yet to give its final say on the matter when Trai has suddenly suggested that IPTV content be kept under I&B Guidelines.

MSOs are also saying that the Trai paper, which they accuse has been issued too hurriedly, says in one breath that cable operators can operate on the IPTV platform and yet, IPTV is not a cable operation.

The Trai paper has said in opening remarks that IPTV is viewed by cable players as an encroachment in their area, and a threat to their business model (Point 1.2.3).

Among Regulatory Issues, Trai says that IPTV is provision of television signal using Internet Protocol for transmission of signals to the subscribers.

Interestingly, this issue, especially content control, is pending with the Centre and an inter-ministerial committee has been formed to go into precisely this issue. The Trai position on IPTV could, thus, come in for a heated debate.

This is because the I&B ministry has informed the MSO Alliance and Cable Operators Federation of India recently that no one knows who would control IPTV content, since as per Allocation of Business, it falls under telecom ministry. Hence, an inter-ministerial committee has been set up to change the Business Allocation.

Since telecom service providers having UASL license are permitted to provide triple play services, Trai says the question was being raised time and again whether these operators needed any other regulatory clearances to provide IPTV to their subscribers.

The issue of IPTV came up for discussion during consultation process on consultation paper on "Convergence and Competition in Broadcasting in Telecommunication" issued on 2 January, 2006.

It was argued by one school of thought that IPTV is a closed transmission path designed to provide cable TV services, and hence IPTV should be governed by the provisions of ‘Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act 1995‘.

It was further pointed out that there will be certain grey areas if IPTV services are governed by the existing Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 1995.

Trai says that in order to understand its applicability, it is important to examine various definitions given in this Act.

"Cable Television Network" means any system consisting of a set of closed transmission paths and associated signal generation, control and distribution equipment, designed to provide cable service for reception by multiple subscribers.

This is where the MSOs have accused Trai of ‘muddling up issues‘ and say they are unhappy as there seems to be no real effort to come to a clear picture.

The most crucial point of friction between Trai and the MSOs lies in Point No. 3.10:

"As has been discussed in Chapter 2, IPTV network consists of closed transmission paths and associated signals.

"However, network setup by UASL is designed to provide telecom services and not a cable service. IPTV service can be delivered using Telecom Network local loop, optical fiber or wireless media.

"Hence delivery of IPTV signal under UASL is not restricted to telecom local loop but also includes wireless media, Optical fibre, etc. When the issue is to determine whether IPTV is a "Cable Service" or not, it will defy logic if it is said that IPTV delivered through wireline using telecom local loop would be a cable service but the same IPTV delivered through wireless is not a cable service.

"Indeed there may be situation where the IPTV service provider delivers IPTV service to subscribers‘ home using a combination of wire and wireless media.

Hence delivery of such signals cannot be termed uniformly as delivery through cable. Therefore, IPTV service provided by telecom operators is not the same as "cable service".

The MSOs have also found fallacy in Point No. 3.11, which says that "Television network is defined as one "designed to provide cable services for reception by multiple subscribers". In IPTV, subscribers communicate individually to the central equipment as well as DSLAM.

"The individual local loop carries individual TV signal for individual subscriber. That is to say, the telecom local loop carries, at a time, only one TV channel which has been "pulled" out by individual subscriber from IP TV server or DSLAM on "One-toone" basis, as against the conventional cable TV network which carries all the channels at any time because these channels have been "Pushed" by the local cable operator into the cable TV network on "One-to-many" basis by multiple subscribers.

"Therefore the telecom network is designed to deliver TV signal to individual subscriber and not for multiple subscribers.

Hence, again IPTV is not a Cable Television Network service."

Trai says also that a further analysis of the cable networks and IPTV networks will indicate that both the structures are grossly different. In case of cable network, all the channels are pushed to the subscriber premises and are available at set top box (STB) and can be viewed based on the authorization given to the subscriber as per his choice available on the magnetic viewing card.

The all important point by Trai has been made at 3.18, which says: "It is important to mention here that IPTV provider can get channels only from broadcasters.

Broadcasters are already bound by the uplinking / downlinking guidelines. Therefore as long as such IPTV operators show only those channels which already have up-linking/ down-linking permission there will be no issue relating to the content, specially related with IPTV provider.

In order to ensure that unregulated content are not shown by IPTV operators, following provision will have to be specified in appropriate telecom licenses.

The issues are: -

  • Technological requirement of IPTV to deliver content through a STB leads to non-compliance with the requirement of Section 4A of Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 about Free-To-Air channels not needing an addressable system in CAS notified areas.
  • Use of different protocols by different companies and lack of standardization for IPTV services may violate the requirement of Section 9 of Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 about use of equipment conforming to Indian Standards.
  • Applicability of FDI norms, downlinking guidelines and programme codes on a unified access licensees licensed under Telegraph Act providing IPTV services with same content as Cable TV needs clarification.
  • The first two issues are pertinent only when it is assumed that IPTV service constitutes cable services and is covered under the ambit of Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act 1995.

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