Regulators

Parliamentary panel pushes for TRAI's empowerment

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MUMBAI: Parliament’s Standing Committee on Information Technology and Communications (SCIT) wants more regulations for the broadcast industry. Finding the current powers given to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) inadequate, it has recommended that either the scope of its authority be increased or the broadcast industry be given its own regulator.

In the committee’s report on ‘Status of Cable TV Digitisation and Interoperability of Set-top Boxes’, it noted that since 2004, when the TRAI was entrusted with the responsibility to oversee the broadcast sector, the industry has seen enormous growth in the number of satellite TV channels, DTH services, digitisation of cable TV networks, and TV ratings agencies. With its limited ability, TRAI has efficiently handled issues to bring about transparency and non-discrimination, improve the quality of service and allow the sector to grow.

It noted that TRAI recommendations were the basis for the government to form several policy decisions. “The committee is, however, constrained to note that TRAI at present has got very limited powers due to which enforcement of its regulations, directions and tariff orders becomes difficult,” the panel mentioned.

Several services providers have freely violated TRAI orders and cases against them were filed in pertinent courts. The committee doesn’t find this an effective way to get the broadcast industry to fall in line with rules. The TRAI’s recommendations of modifications to its Act are under consideration by the government.

The committee has suggested the government to evaluate the need for a separate regulator for the broadcast industry and, until such a time, the TRAI be empowered for effective enforcement of its regulations.

It appreciated the efforts taken by TRAI to regulate pricing of set top boxes, but strongly recommends for unbundling of hardware and associated services and making provision for itemised billing for hardware as well as associated services such as installation, activation and maintenance and providing more option to the customer to procure similar compatible hardware from the open market.

The TRAI’s effort on addressing carriage fee details was also lauded by the committee. It stated that “despite extreme reluctance on the part of broadcasters to share the details of the carriage fee”, it has now addressed the issue in its new regulatory framework capping it at 20 paise per subscriber per channel and which is expected to further decrease till zero when 20 per cent of subscribers will be available on the platform who choose the channel. Though this decision is being scrutinised at the High Courts of Delhi and Chennai, the committee hoped the TRAI’s efforts will go a long way in addressing the issue to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.

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