Baijal stresses importance of regulator in facilitating growth

MUMBAI: Even though Reliance is yet to publicly announce details of its Netway broadband project, the Telecom Regulatory Authority Of India (Trai) chairman Pradip Baijal appears to be gung ho about its potential.

In a special address to the plenary session on Day 2 of Ficci Frames 2004, Baijal struck a bullish note on the future of broadband and convergence saying the 50 million cable TV homes would be the route through which broadband penetration would be facilitated.

But that is the future (even if a very near one). What is taking up all Baijal's energies currently is cable TV regulation and what he had to say would have rattled even more an already rattled cable fraternity. Baijal announced that within two weeks, Trai would be coming out with a consultation paper on cable pricing. Referring to the present ceiling on cable prices (effective as on 26 December 2003), Baijal said it would continue for another three months.

Baijal made it clear that while Trai did not intend to get into the regulation of the pricing of content, that would not be the case as far as inter-connect agreement issues (between broadcaster and MSO and MSO and cable operator) were concerned. The decision on tariff regulation for the carriage fee would be taken within three months, he said.

Baijal made a pointed reference to what he called "the vicious on-ground monopoly of cable operators", while stressing on the need for regulation on issues like carriage fees.

Baijal gave out some data as well on the potential that broadband and convergence offered. Currently, Internet penetration is just 4 in 1,000 while broadband was even less at 2 in 10,000, said Baijal. Internet connectivity is 50 times more while South Korea is 2,500 times more than India, said Baijal. When comparing India and China on cable TV penetration, it is just 1:1.6 said Baijal. Now who can argue with those numbers?

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