Allow broadcast services by telcos: Trai

NEW DELHI: The telecom and broadcast and cable regulator is now pushing for convergence to happen. Any move in this direction would primarily serve to to enlarge its role.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has suggested that the rural telephony initiative should ride the entertainment bandwagon and, in this connection, has said broadcast services should be brought under the proposed unified licensing regime.

At the time of issuing a draft consultation paper on unified licensing regime a while back, Trai had clarified that for the moment broadcast and cable services did not fall within the ambit of this proposed legislation and remained very much a prerogative of the information and broadcasting ministry.

According to Trai chief Pradip Baijal, who was participating in a meeting yesterday of a Planning Commission committee (set up recently to undertake review of the information, communication and entertainment sectors) telecom companies should be allowed to provide broadcast services and vice versa to give a fillip to proliferation of such services in all segments of society, including rural India.

Baijal also pushed for an early introduction of the unified licensing regime, saying that unless this happens, penetration of rural telephony would remain slow.

Trai feels that even with tremendous growth in the information technology sector, overall usage and penetration of such services and products in the country has still lagged behind international averages.

The Authority has noted, in a consultation paper on spread of rural telephony, that for all-round development to occur, appropriate regulatory environment and policies need to be established so that the discrepancy in pricing, penetration and type and quality of telecom services between India and other countries can be eliminated. Once this happens, only then will there be successful growth and business models in video, broadband, Internet and telephony services.

Trai has further noted that despite several attempts over the last more than 10 years, the gap between penetration of telephony in rural (1.7 per cent) and urban (19.7 per cent) areas is widening and measures need to be taken to reduce this gap.

To achieve the goal of reduction in the urban-rural gap, Trai feels that more cost-effective technologies like broadband over Wi Max and Cordect, should be encouraged. Local content development will also help in generating more rural employment.

In this connection, Baijal also told the Plan panel meet that the government is likely to formalise the spectrum policy within a month, which would facilitate spread of broadband in the country.

Interestingly, according to Planning Commission sources, the official representing the information and broadcasting ministry kept quiet, allowing Baijal to hold forth on convergence.

Those who attended yesterday's meeting included Prasar Bharati CEO KS Sarma and the secretary department of post, amongst others.

The Planning Commission, a government think-tank on economic policies had recently set up a co-ordination committee on information, communication and broadcasting technologies. The agenda: to identify broader areas for policy review.

This initiative is part of mid-term appraisal of the 10th Five-Year Plan (2002-07).

The terms of reference of the newly set-up committee include conditional access system and the use of SMS in the broadcasting sector, rural connectivity and deployment of wireless technologies in the last mile, broadband and its benefits for the masses and facilitating Internet penetration.

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