Cable TV

Cable digitalisation: Ball in government court says Trai chief

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MUMBAI: Digitalisation of cable TV is necessary as analogue receivers can't accommodate more television channels, said the Telcom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) chairman Pradip Baijal, while speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the 3rd International Conference on 'Communication Convergence - The Change Agent' organised by Indian Merchants' Chamber.

When queried by Indiantelevision.com on whether the government's plans to bring complete digitalisation by 2010 would mean a first phase implementation in the metros, Baijal said the regulator had sent in the recommendations and it was up to the government to decide.

But would digitalisation mean a backdoor entry to conditional access system? "CAS has to come, this way or that. And it is not a backdoor entry. CAS is needed for growth. For more channels to be available on cable networks and for viewers to see, CAS has to come," Baijal said.

Explaining that the regulation in the cable TV and broadcasting sector will take time to mature, Baijal said the Trai has been working on it for only over a year. "It took 5-6 years for the telecom sector regulation to mature," he added.

Stressing on the need for unified license regime, Baijal said it would bring down the carriage cost for voice, video and data. "There are 80 countries across the world that allow telephony over Internet Protocol. Unified license is nothing but a convergence licence. Convergence of all the services can bring down tariff further. A revolution is waiting to happen."

Baijal pointed out that India's tele-density, which had posted a meagre growth at around 1.92 per cent in 1998 from 0.02 per cent posted in 1948 under a vertically integrated sector, is now gaining momentum after liberalisation. "It has grown to 2.92 per cent and had posted a radical increase last year. The entry of highly aggressive players into the market and aggressive rules of competition have led to an explosion in the telecom sector" he said.

Speaking on "Regulatory framework for convergence", Information & Communications Technology, Ministry of industry, Canada, director general Keith Parsonage said a transparent policy and regulatory framework were key to a successful market. "Much of our success can be attributed to a consultative approach to policy development, including direct input from stakeholders, a transparent policy and regulatory framework, and a market-based approach to support the development and deployment of new technologies, services and industries," he said.

GTL Limited CEO Michael Clark said networks were beginning to go away from operators in today's scenario. Explaining the transformation taking place today in the area of convergence, he said networking speed and depth were changing the way business operates.

Clark listed out some of the key objectives of regulation under convergence as flexibility, stimulating growth, fostering innovation, bridging the digital divide, balancing owner and user interests in network interconnection, using competition (not controls) to protect public interests, efficient utilisation of existing infrastructure and investments, improving quality of service, establishing world's best security standards and recognising that the industry is no longer just operators.

Telecommunications & Computer Information Systems director Mahesh Uppal said regulations must enable convergence's exploitation and prevent its abuse. He said the role of a regulator is particularly important when government is a major player.

Uppal identified the core issue as functionality. "You regulate functions, not technology," he said.

Other noted speakers included Supreme Court advocate Pavan Duggal, India Strategy director Ravi Sharma and Nishith Desai Associates associate Vivek Kathpalia.

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