MSO Alliance urges Trai to rollout Cas within 18 months

NEW DELHI: A section of the cable industry has said that the cable and broadcast regulator should be "empowered" to have a say in the final policy making, even while exhorting the regulator to suggest that an early rollout of mandatory addressability in the three metros of Mumbai, Calcutta and Delhi would be beneficial for the industry.

According to the MSO Alliance, an apex body of some of the

big multi-system operators in the country, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) should formulate an overall staggered timetable for the mandatory rollout of CAS for all 50 million cable homes over the next 18 months.

Making a presentation at a recent seminar in Mumbai, the MSO Alliance told the audience, comprising representatives of some bodies involved in settling industry disputes, that the broadcast and cable regulator must mandate a "must provide" clause to ensure that no dominant broadcaster or content rights holder refuses content to a rival technology platform.

The Trai must ensure that broadcasters compulsorily provide a la carte choice of channels to customers vis-a- vis full bouquet, which "should not be forced on unwilling customers."

It was also pointed out that the Trai Act should be amended to provide for compulsory registration of all electronic media service providers like broadcasters, MSOs and cable ops.

Interestingly, the MSO Alliance has suggested to Trai that if it is assumed that a phased rollout of conditional access system (CAS) over the next 18 months would happen, a regulator-mandated tariff freeze should continued in non-CAS areas till addressability is uniformly introduced.

This, the Alliance contended, would allow MSOs/cable operators to charge for new pay channels launched after 15 January, 2004.

Other measures in consumer interest suggested by MSO

Alliance include:

* Consumer friendly set-top boxes (STBs) schemes as formulated by MSOs be reported to Trai and be made available in public domain to enable customers to exercise genuine choice. Service levels for maintenance/refund of STBs be fixed in consultation with service providers.

* Commercial interoperability for STBs be mandated to help customers shifting residences.

* Government should reintroduce the concessional rates of customs duty for STBs and give duty/tax exemption for digitalisation of the industry to widen consumer choice for at least three years.

* A specific bar under Section 14 of the Trai Act, wherein complaints of individual consumers can only be maintainable before consumer disputes redressal forums or the National Consumer Redressal Commission, be liberalised as urgent action is required immediately to provide a credible recourse for customer redressal along with reintroduction of Cas.

* The government needs to set up an Independent Electronic Media Regulatory Authority as mandated by the Supreme Court in 1995 in the Cricket Association of Bengal case.

* Alternately, enlarge the powers of Trai/TDSAT (a telecom, cable and broadcast disputes tribunal) on the lines of the Convergence Commission proposed in the Communication Convergence Bill 2001.

In conclusion the MSO Alliance has said that ministries of information and broadcasting and communications would be confined to a policy making role if a convergence happens and that may be a small price to pay for bringing order and sanity to an industry, which is indeed a public utility today and as important as roti, kapda, makaan (bread, clothing

and housing).

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