MUMBAI: The Parliament’s Standing Committee on Information Technology and Communications (SCIT) has sent out a stern message to the stakeholders of India’s broadcast and cable industry, including the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB): get your acts together.
BJP MP Anurag Thakur-chaired all-party parliamentary panel has been especially critical of MIB’s handling of country’s digitisation of TV services or digital addressable system (DAS). It pointed out that MIB could not “absolve” itself of “responsibility” of DAS implementation as it was the administrative ministry for media matters.
It has exhorted the ministry to put in place a monitoring mechanism at the federal level at the earliest to coordinate with the authorised officers for tracking violations by operators and to also hold periodic meetings with the stakeholders concerned to ensure that the mandated cable TV digitisation process is enforced.
Putting the onus on the ministry to persuade MSOs to complete seeding of consumer data in the cable TV operators' management information systems at the earliest, the parliamentary panel has directed the government to ensure proper agreements are signed between stakeholders (broadcasters, MSOs and LCOs). MIB has also been directed to update the panel on the progress made by MIB and to take extreme step of even cancellation of MSO licence in case of non-compliance.
Interestingly, the committee told the nodal ministry to take a final decision within a definite time period in the case of Tamil Nadu government-controlled MSO Arasu Cable in keeping with TRAI norms for MSOs seeking to provide digital service.
Arasu has been seeking temporary extension of its licence saying it has been unable to fully seed its subscribers with STBs that were taking long to import. In separate recommendations made earlier --- not yet accepted by the government --- TRAI had suggested barring federal or state governments or its organisations from segments of broadcast and TV services’ distribution.
The committee said that it expects MIB to address effectively issues raised in the complaints filed by some MSOs and LCOs in Tamil Nadu (mostly against Arasu) and that the ministry should revert within three months reporting the progress made.
The committee, while suggesting infrastructure sharing for distribution platforms, urged the government to provide necessary resources or financial incentives to distribution platforms like MSOs who were aiming to provide services in rural areas. Its rationale: developing infrastructure individually may be a costly proposition for cable TV operators.
Alive to number of litigations in the broadcast and cable sectors, the committee exhorted MIB and the government to explore having a dialogue with courts on the need to close early cases relating to TRAI’s new guidelines on tariff, QoS and inter-connect, which were issued in 2016 but challenged in Chennai and Delhi high courts by Star TV-Vijay TV combine and Tata Sky and Airtel Digital. Both the cases are still pending final verdicts from the courts.
The committee has recommended that an option of pay-per-use, as made available by DTH operators to subscribers, be explored for cable TV too as it could give the consumer more flexible options.
Finally, the committee has directed the MIB to do a formal cable TV digitisation impact assessment study including all its aspects to get a clear picture on how far DAS has actually been able to achieve its intended objectives.