Govt. re-visits issue of Trai mandate over broadcast sector

NEW DELHI: Even as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), the broadcast and cable regulator, takes it own sweet time to come out with recommendations on various industry issues, the government is checking out whether the mandate given to the organisation is legally valid or not.

According to information and broadcasting ministry sources, bureaucrats have got indications from I&B minister Jaipal Reddy to see whether authorising Trai as the broadcast and cable regulator - a move undertaken by the previous government - is legally valid. If one reads this from the flip side, it also means that Reddy is looking at ways to take powers back from Trai.

The latest moves come at a time when Trai is being increasingly accused of taking important decisions late or delaying the whole process, which has resulted in keeping in limbo the broadcast industry.

Take, for instance the case of the price freeze on cable subscription prices mandated by Trai, effective from 26 December. It is almost six months now since the directive came from the regulator and even now the recommendations related to conditional access system (Cas) are awaited by the industry.

As one broadcaster pointed out, "The whole chain is getting delayed because Trai has not been able to put out anything on the issue till date, except hold discussions and have some market surveys and research work produced. Because Trai's recommendations would not be the final word, as the government would have to take a final call, every passing day is adding to the financial burden of industry players."

Apart from having IMRB conduct a survey on Cas, Trai had also commissioned the Hong Kong-based Media Partners Asia, a research agency, to undertake a study of the India market vis-?-vis the global scenario. Both the agencies have submitted their reports.

Though Trai had said that it would come out with a series of recommendations in July, it now transpires that this may happen only towards the end of the month as the regulator grapples with complex issues of an industry that has grown sizably. The cable industry itself is estimated to be generating revenues worth Rs 16 billion.

But the government too, is hampered by ground realities. Wish as much he may, even Reddy knows that his dream of bringing about a separate broadcast regulatory authority cannot come true immediately. Ministry sources indicate that work on a new broadcast bill is in progress, but a new Bill is unlikely to be introduced in Parliament before the winter session, which would mean the third quarter of 2004.

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