Interconnect agreements will have to be registered with Trai

MUMBAI: Transparency, a dirty word in the cable TV industry, is what the Telecom and Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) is pressing for. Broadcasters and multi-service operators (MSOs) will have to register with the Authority their interconnect agreements, declaring information that they were so protectively guarded about.

The new Register of Interconnect Regulations for the Broadcasting and Cable Services, issued by Trai today (31 December), says broadcasters will have to file all their interconnect agreements with all the distributors - cable operators, MSOs, direct-to-home (DTH) and Headend-in-the-Sky (HITS) operators. This regulation shall come into effect from the date of its publication in the official Gazette.

"All broadcasters are required to register with the Authority interconnect agreements entered into by them as against the provisions in the existing regulations which require the filing of interconnect agreements to which not only the Broadcasters but also multi service operator are parties."

The changed provision is in line with TRAI's recommendation stating that the agreements entered into by MSO and local cable operator (LCO) shall be registered with the authorised officer and agreements entered into between broadcasters, MSOs, DTH operators and HITS operator shall be filed with the Authority.

Amendments and modifications to the agreements as well as new agreements pertaining to a particular quarter need to be filed within one month of the end of the respective quarter, according to the Trai.

Interconnect agreements are to be filed in two parts - one containing the standard affiliation agreement /service contract and the other detailing in tabular form individual agreements. This will cover among other things contracting parties, service area and date of entering into contract.

The "Register of Interconnect Agreement Regulation 1999 (2 of 1999), dated 1 September 1999, was amended on 11 February 2004 to include the Broadcasting and Cable services. According to this, the broadcasters including their authorised distribution agencies and MSOs are required to register with the Authority any interconnect agreement to which they were parties.

But while processing cases of registration, the regulator found that broadcasters and MSOs were using a standard form of agreements for a particular type of arrangement entered into with a group of subscribers. Besides, there would be too many agreements if the MSOs and broadcasters were to submit agreements individually. Also, most of the MSOs and broadcasters wanted the information furnished (particularly on the number of subscribers, subscription rate, number and details of channels, and discounts schemes) to be kept confidential as they had commercial terms. This is why the Trai felt that the information furnished would not cater to the specific needs of Broadcasting & Cable Services.

"It is necessary to formulate a separate Register of Interconnect Agreements Regulations for Broadcasting and Cable Services instead of amending the existing principal regulations of 1999," the Trai says.

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