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"Time not ripe for preferential treatment for exclusive content" : Pradip Baijal - TRAI chairman

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The Left parties have sought his immediate dismissal for “criminal connivance” with private telecom operators who, they allege, are under-invoicing their access deficit charges (ADC) payments. This, the Left said in Parliament too, was causing losses to the state-controlled Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam LTD (MTNL). He is also alleged to be close to a certain corporate house that is aggressively

cornering market share in the area of telecom and wants to deliver TV content over broadband networks. What’s more, those from the cable and broadcast sector think he doesn’t understand the dynamics of this particular industry that was thrust on him more out of political reasons.

But all these allegations and insinuation haven’t stopped Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) chairman Pradip Baijal from being himself --- subtle in puncturing criticism and professing his love for consumers of telecom and broadcast services.

After giving out a couple of interviews this year, Baijal has kept himself off the press for full length one-on-ones, though he gives ample sound bytes on sidelines of seminars and public functions to people who are interested in listening to him. Indiantelevision.com’s Delhi bureau tries to peep into the telecom and broadcast & cable sector regulator’s mind by collating his viewpoints on various issues relating to the industry on the sidelines of a broadband seminar organised by Bharat Exhibitions today.

Excerpts:

On whether he’s feeling anguished over being lambasted by political parties and part of the media.

Should I feel anguished? (Smiles) Not really. What can I do if my observations are taken out of context by friends in the media sometimes? Whatever I say is the view of the Authority. I don’t have any personal views.

On issuance of the interconnect regulations for the broadcast sector, I have signed the final document and it should be notified today. (Due to technical reasons including unavailability of a Hindi translator, the recommendations of the interconnect agreement were finally not issued). We want to get it out of our way as soon as possible as it’s an important industry issue.

On whether some ticklish points raised by pay broadcasters held up the interconnect regulations’ notification.

I would not say they were ticklish, but they were certainly important. And, we try to incorporate the good points and suggestions in every order that we come out with. But, we do get a feeling that there’s lot of opposition to certain things that we had proposed in the draft regulations issued earlier.

The must-provide clause (making available all content to all platforms on a non-discriminatory basis) is one such issue where we received diverse feedback; some of them were strong.

On whether points raised by pay broadcasters like Sony Entertainment TV that must-provide does not have any global precedence are valid.

As a regulator, it’s not my job to see whether something should always be valid from a global perspective. We have to keep the Indian consumers’ interest in mind. What Sony is saying doesn’t hold well from an Indian point of view. An absence of must-provide would kill competition in the market that needs it at this juncture. It would also act as an antidote for predatory pricing and see that monopolistic situations don’t hold sway.

On allegations that Trai is attempting to dictate the terms of business by excluding factors like premium on exclusivity.

At this moment of time, as a regulator, we don’t believe in `exclusivity.’ If somebody has bought cricket for $ 308 million, as you say, then it should be made available to consumers of all platforms at the same commercial consideration. We are not saying that content should be given free. What we are stating is that preferential pricing and sale of content should not be done. We have a similar approach for the telecom sector too as

we feel that to expand the market and lure more customers, services would have to come cheap without hidden agendas.

Now, suppose Zee says that it has brought cricket for $ 308 million and it could be seen only on their DTH network. What happens to those consumers who don’t subscribe to Zee’s DTH service and rely on some other service provider? The same holds true for Sony and Star.

On whether Trai would ever give some importance to exclusive content that is acquired at a huge cost.

Are we saying that such exclusive content should be provided to all platforms free of cost? No. A broadcaster or a platform manager can earn revenue by selling and marketing content. What we are saying is that a situation should not arise where Star refuses to give its exclusive content to Zee’s platform or vice versa, depriving consumers of access to content.

Moreover, the time is not ripe for such preferential treatment for exclusive content at the moment in India. As and when infrastructure develops and the technological capability to provide more on a two-way interactive basis comes in, the regulator would certainly look at different pricing structures. We may also allow exclusive content to be priced exclusively.

On regulating the cable sector that had done phenomenally well in an unregulated environment.

Cable television is a success story of Indian enterpreneurship. It has grown tremendously in an unregulated environment. From nothing, it has become a Rs 150 billion industry. We really don’t want to over-regulate it. It needs light regulation so that enterpreneurship can continue.

On political criticism of Trai’s role as a regulator.

It’s a complex issue as a different tribunal (TDSAT) hears disputes on interconnection. As an Authority, we have no say in such things. Because going to TDSAT begins with a dispute, things become more complicated as people interpret the Trai Act differently. One may appeal to the government to bring about some changes in the Act or we may also approach the Supreme

Court to lend clarity to the whole issue.

On the future of broadband in India.

I would say, India is not doing badly, but very badly. (Taking a pot-shot at state-controlled Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd). My friends there tell me they have laid fibre optics under the ground. But what would they do with that if they don’t lease it out to broadband players, even private ones, to increase penetration.

On whether the government is deliberately sitting over Trai recommendations on CAS and FM radio?

You should ask the government what it is doing. We have made our position clear.

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