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TRAI meets MCOF's Prabhoo on LMO issues

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MUMBAI: It was at indiantelevision.com & MPA’s (Media Partners Asia) India Digital Operators Summit (IDOS) that Mumbai-based cable TV heavyweight and MCOF (Maharashtra Cable Operators Federation) president Arvind Prabhoo first presented to India's cable, DTH, regulatory and broadcast leaders the local cable TV operators' perspective. Everyone was impressed including Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)'s advisor N. Parameswaran, who said the regulatory body would like him to come and present at its headquarters in Delhi.

The wheelchair bound Prabhoo did exactly that three days ago on 6 November when he presented the LMO's viewpoint once again before the TRAI's N Parmeshwaran, Wasi Ahmed, S K Singhal and G S Kesarwani.

Prabhoo once again highlighted the issues that are bothering the LMOs and the role they can play in phase III and phase IV of digitisation.

“There is a crisis in DAS I and II areas regarding LMO-MSO relationship,” says Prabhoo, adding that it was important to address the problems. Prabhoo has told TRAI that his major concern was the MSO-LMO-subscriber relationship. Subscribers belong to LMOs who collect money from them and give it to the MSOs who in turn pass it on to broadcasters. However, the MSOs believe that subscribers belong to them and not to the LMOs.

Prabhoo also raised the issue of uneven pricing of packages in cities like Mumbai. He wants all MSOs to have similar packages so that it is convenient for a subscriber to migrate and that will even make money collection easier. At the same time, clarity on a-la-carte channels is missing even today.

He also brought to fore the issue regarding the ownership of set top boxes (STBs). He thinks it is a big bone of contention. “On one hand, customers think they own the STBs, while the MSOs think that STBs are their property,” he remarks. “This disallows customers from migrating from one provider to another using the same STB when he shifts to a new place with a new provider and if he does, the LCO is held responsible for it. Because of this, many subscribers are shifting from cable to DTH, as it seems to be more convenient.”

Since there’s no fixed revenue sharing deal between the MSOs and LMOs, Prabhoo came up with few solutions. He suggested that for an FTA (Free to Air) channel the sharing between MSO and LMO can be 20:80, while for pay channels it can be 75:25.

He also suggested that the price of a STB can be reduced and a free basic broadband service be given to communicate by mail. Another suggestion was to rename the LMOs as Horizontal Connectivity Provider Agency (HCPA).

Prabhoo also brought to TRAI’s notice the issue of entertainment tax. The 42B licenses of LMOs have not been renewed since two to three years and yet the tax is being collected from them. TRAI seemed to be unaware about the issue and has told to get in touch with the chief secretary of Maharashtra soon. They also said that as a regulator they had done everything they could.

“There needs to be more interaction between LMO, MSO, broadcaster and TRAI if we need a proactive solution to address all our concerns,” concludes Prabhoo.

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