Telecom, cable ground realities different: industry

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: The cable industry feels that Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's assertions on mandating more service providers in cable areas to increase competition is something that would happen as the industry matures and intra-industry wrangling between the broadcasting and cable fraternity lessen.

But, more importantly the industry players pointed out that TRAI's attempt to replicate telecom-like ground rules in cable service might not always work because "the ground rules are different as also the realities."

A multi-system operator (MSO), when quizzed on the issue said if TRAI wants more than one cable service provider in an area, then it hasn't studied the cable industry properly as technically such a scenario prevails.

"What makes things difficult to implement it is the non-cooperation from the broadcasters, especially those who also have interest in ground distribution companies (like Star and Zee Telefilms)," a senior executive of an MSO explained.

The newly-mandated regulator has sparked off another round of discussion in the industry when its chief Pradip Baijal told the Press Trust of India yesterday that he would like to see more than one cable operator in a designated area, on the lines of telecom norms, to increase competition that would benefit the consumers as monopolies would end.

The cable fraternity is not much off the mark when it says that in hypothesis such a scenario exists, but is not implemented in spirit as most big players follow a no-poaching-in-competiton's- areas dictum. What's more, if such attempts at evolving competition is made, it is alleged broadcasters play truant and refuse to give the channels' boxes to the new entrant or make things difficult for the newcomer.

For example, two instances of Delhi areas were cited where at one place when a particular MSO's monopoly was attempted to be broken by a cable operator, most broadcasters refused to give him the boxes for thew digital channels. In the other place, strong-arm tactics were employed by the newcomer to break into an upmarket residential area, which had been serviced by a big independent operator.

But, by and large, the cable fraternity plays by the you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-your-back rule whereby, as per an unwritten rule, poaching is not encouraged, though minor skirmishes, like cutting of cables to express resentment, is also common.

Says Home Cable MD Vikki Chowdhry, whose network services an upmarket area of South Delhi, "TRAI still hasn't understood the way cable industry functions. Ground monopolies can only be broken when cross service restrictions are enforced."

Singing a similar tune was Cable Operators Federation of India's Roop Sharma. According to her, in theory TRAI's proposal to end monopoly is fine, but when it needs to be seen whether it would be able to implement and enforce such a rule actually on the ground as broadcasters may not play ball.

Now, one can ask why do most people seem to be angry with the broadcasters? To start off with, it is felt, even in the government, that the industry, led by broadcasters, derailed the CAS train.

Queried as to whether the broadcasters had formulated any common response to the TRAI's recent pronouncements, Star India COO Sameer Nair said the matter was still being discussed. Nair did however, say that if there could be more than one operator in an area, it was good for the consumer as competition would automatically improve service.

Though TRAI may not be able to bring in order instantly in a growing, but chaotic, industry like broadcast and cable industry, it can make some attempts. For starters, the MSOs have been invited by TRAI for an interaction on 27 January where it is expected the cable industry would bare their feelings. 

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