TRAI releases its 2013 report card

MUMBAI: The year 2013 saw the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) cracking its whip on the broadcasters as well as every other party within the industry for its betterment. It released several papers and regulations in order to do so. The Regulator that released its activity report for the year gone by as the New Year kicked off, said that consumer interest has been one of its main mandates.

To ensure good consumer experience, in 2013, TRAI amended ‘standards of quality of service (duration of ads in TVs)” of 2004. And what came into effect was the regulation that restricts advertising air time to 12 minutes for a clock hour. The regulator says that this practice is not uncommon in several countries and also goes along with the provisions of the Cable TV Network Rules (1994). “Excessive advertisement adversely affects the quality of viewing experience of the consumer. The objective behind the issue of these regulations was to ensure a better quality of experience for the consumer,” says the TRAI’s activity paper.

But even after this amendment, not all the broadcasters have been following it and the current fate of the ad cap is in a limbo. Several broadcasters have even challenged it in the Delhi High Court including the News Broadcasters Association (NBA). When channels openly did not follow the rule, TRAI started prosecuting them for it. Complaints were filed against 14 broadcasters for non compliance with the regulation. With this, TRAI disappointed many channels as the regulation came at a time when advertising rates were dipping and digitisation had not even entered phase II.

TRAI also came up with The Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services Tariff Orders for cable TV and DTH services that provides standard tariff packs for supply and installation of STBs to consumers in DAS areas and Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) to DTH consumers.

When India’s oldest DTH operator, Dish TV went to the regulator for extension of its 10 year licence that was to expire on 30 September, it woke up to the fact there were no guidelines/rules on  extension. The new consultation paper is reportedly coming out this month and meanwhile Dish TV has been allowed to continue on its existing terms and conditions.

The issue of media ownership was also addressed with the Regulator coming out with a consultation paper that discussed points related to ownership of a media outlet, disqualification from the media sector and rules for mergers and acquisitions in the sector. Media monopoly issues were also taken up when the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) asked TRAI to examine whether there was a requirement of restrictions on MSOs and LCOs to prevent them from monopolising cable TV markets.

The TAM brouhaha that saw adamant broadcasters unsubscribe to its ratings system led to the TRAI coming up with its guidelines defining parameters for ratings agencies and ratings systems.

Major steps were taken to strengthen the process of digitsation. Multi-system Operators (MSOs) and Local Cable Operators (LCOs) were ordered to bring a proper subscriber management system (SMS) in place and disconnect signals for those whose details were not entered.

Pay TV channels were asked to have written interconnect agreements with MSOs. One of the provisions that protected broadcasters was that an MSO could not demand signals for a particular channel under the ‘must provide’ clause and ask for carriage fee.

As India is progressing towards digitisation, a la carte channels should also be available along with packages, so that subscribers can opt for either a la carte or bouquets or a combination of both. 14 LCOs and a MSO were also taken to court for not following DAS regulations.

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