Regulators

Trai unlikely to give final interconnect regulations this week

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NEW DELHI: Broadcast and cable regulator is unlikely to come out with the final interconnect regulations this week as had been envisaged, even as it grapples with diverse feedback on the issue, especially those relating to making available content to all platforms on a mandatory basis.

According to a source in Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), the interconnect regulations are likely to be finalised by next week only, indicating that the divergent views on must-provide has become a ticklish issue for the regulator.

That a storm of a sort is brewing in the Trai cup in the form of must-provide clause or making available channels on a non-discriminatory basis to all platforms cannot be ruled out as most pay broadcasters like Sony Entertainment TV India, Discovery and Star India coming out openly against such a regulation.

Though in private, a Trai member said the attempt would be to balance out the concerns of the broadcasters in the final mandate, but it may prove to be a Herculean task.

A broadcast industry source said that the possibility of somebody moving court cannot be ruled out if Trai insists on the must-provide clause as being described in the draft circulated by the Authority. The broadcast industrys understanding is that it leaves no scope for marketing exclusive content.

For example, Sony Entertainment TV India, in its representation on must-provide, has conveyed to Trai that it would, in effect, be tantamount to copyright infringement if creativity is regulated and denying traditional rights of broadcasters.

The regulation instead should focus on preventing creation of vertically integrated media companies directly. Vertically integrated media companies should offer capacity on their platforms to their competitors at fair and competitive prices, as is the international precedent. Otherwise, a platform owner that also owns channels should offer such channels to competing platforms on terms and conditions no worse than what it has agreed for its own platform, Sony is understood to have told Trai.

Likening its position to a content providers, Trai sources said Sony, in its response, has stated that the draft interconnect regulation does nothing to address the last mile problem and also refers to the lack of any regulation to effect the must carry clause. The argument being must-provide would decrease competition.

Why so? According to Sony, content is the main legal differentiator for this business and thats why it has not agreed to be carried by Dish TV, 20 per cent owned by Zee Telefilms, owing to the latters inability to give satisfactory answers to issues like piracy and other commercial concerns.

Sony has also quoted extensively from global norms like Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (the Berne Convention), treaties ratified by India, in support of its claims as to why must-provide should not be enforced.

With such viewpoints being expressed, the regulator has to be careful as the primary aim is to benefit the viewers most, the Trai source explained, hinting at the dilemma being faced by the regulator.

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