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Convergence is the way forward: Baijal

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MUMBAI: In the new converged paradigm, the boundaries of telecommunications, media and entertainment and information technology (IT) are blurring and the need to have a common regulator to ensure a smooth transition is of vital importance.

The second day of Ficci Frames saw Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA) CEO Simon Twiston Davies, Media Partners Asia Ltd executive director Vivek Couto, Amarchand Mangaldas Suresh A Shroff & Co. managing partner Shardul Shroff, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman Pradip Baijal, WIPO deputy director general Rita Hayes, National Telecommunications Commission (Philippines) commissioner Ronald Olivar Solis and MCMC (Malaysia) legal advisor Pushpa Nair.

Shroff pointed out that the Indian Convergence Bill of 2000 has still not become legal after being there for five years now. The paper was now dated and needed to be looked at afresh. "This is because our legislature is more politically active but not legally savvy or technologically advanced. The Convergence Bill should not only be able to regulate carriage but also content," Shroff said.

He also pointed out that the policy papers that emancipated from TRAI were by far the best researched papers in the whole world. "Globally the history of regulation is in the telecom and broadcast sector. This is a progression from a state enforced monopoly framework to increasingly competitive 'market driven' framework. The advancement of technology has blurred the line between the telecom and broadcast industries," Shroff pointed out.

He said that the governing principles of regulation were the following:

1. Competition friendly

2. Consumer/Society friendly

3. Investment friendly

4. Technology friendly

The way forward for enabling regulatory framework for the digital age was that integrated carriage regulations should be combined with the flexibility of separate regulation. "The industry should be encouraged to generate codes and rating guidelines for content and also to establish internal checks. Apart from this, media literacy among masses should also be encouraged," Shroff concluded.

The inimitable Baijal started by saying that he was totally confused after hearing what the others had to say as all the issues discussed were very complex. "Today we live in the most exciting environment in India and if the regulator and the government don't encash on it then it would be criminal on their behalf," said Baijal.

"This dynamic environment has been created by the technology and if the regulator and the government fall behind in technology or the benefits of it, it will not reach the consumer," he added.

Citing an example of the telecom industry, Baijal said that in 1948 the tele-density in India was 0.02 per cent. In 1998, it went up to 1.94 per cent, which means that it witnessed a growth of 1.92 per cent in 50 years! Last year, Baijal said, the tele-density increased by 2.11 per cent and one player that made it possible to equal the 50 years' growth in one year was Reliance with its 40 paise mein kar lo duniya mutthi mein' attitude!

Baijal also pushed the case of unified licensing policy and said that it was the only way to grow. "If we have unified licensing, the there would be a growth in the telecom and broadcasting industries. It is convergence that has allowed us to deliver to different mediums today. Convergence has arrived and if we don't recognize it then we will not be able to move forward," he stressed.

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