Telcos call for comprehensive legal framework on convergence

BANGALORE: Telecom companies are in favour of a comprehensive legal framework to deal with various issues arising from convergence of technologies and devices.

Participating at the TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) open house on its consultation paper relating to convergence and competition in broadcasting and telecommunications, Tata Teleservices chief officer corporate regulatory Rakesh Mehrotra said that there was need for a comprehensive legislation. "Today, the broadcasting and the cable industry are quite fragmented. We have to take that into proper regulatory framework.. If you look at the Communication Convergence Bill, it was good at that point of time. But it has no relevance now. There should definitely be comprehensive legislation for that," he added.

Agreed Kulin Sanghvi of Reliance Infocomm: "Our submission is primarily that all players should be at an equivalent level to keep up a comprehensive legal framework. So, maybe what can be done to develop an alternative legal framework is to allow the development of broadcasting services to develop on a stand alone basis to reach a maturity from where a common structure can be evolved," he said.

The Trai panel consisted of Dr. Devendra P S Seth, Satya N Gupta, Dr. S K Haleja and Rakesh Kacker.

The regulator feels there is need to consider several issues in the light of increasingly converged technologies, services and markets as well as international experience - comprehensive legal framework; unified licensing; spectrum related issues; rationalisation of differential custom duty regime; restriction on use of protocols; institutional funding; foreign direct investment limits; and right of way to cable operators providing digital services.

Regarding carriage, Mehrotra said this should be brought under one ambit, be it telecom or broadcasting, and the rules should be framed in such a manner that would foster uniformity. "As far as content is concerned, there should be two different departments - one responsible for broadcasting and the other for telecommunications. This is necessary because if there are two different regulators, there will always be a hitch and conflict of jurisdiction," he remarked.

As far as the licensing regime is concerned, Mehrotra urged for some changes which would take care of carriage and content separately. "There should be some flexibility in the spectrum for allocation to the equal advantage of two services. Mobile TV and broadcasting are going to converge. If you go to the information and broadcasting ministry, it has an entirely different set of rules there. This could be a major bottleneck," he pointed out.

Commenting on institutional financing, Mehrotra said it should be left to market forces. "If the bank finds it viable, let them finance the cable operators. As far as FDI limits are concerned, there was certain reasoning and requirement for different slabs. Hence rationalisation is not required. The various slabs should continue," he added.

Cable operators, however, felt that the sector should get support from institutional financing. They had difficulty in arranging funds for convergence licenses and upgradation of cable networks, according to Ponnacha, former spokesperson of the Karnataka State Cable Operators Association. Citing instances where cable operators had to pay interest rates as high as 60 per cent per annum, he urged the government to direct banks to make financing easily accessible to cable operators.

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