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Difficult to balance consumer interest with stakeholder objectives: TRAI's RS Sharma

He emphasised that consumers’ choice will be of utmost importance for TRAI

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NEW DELHI: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India chief RS Sharma, on Thursday, demystified myths and impressions about the regulation of the sector in a panel discussion at FICCI FRAMES 2020.

He said that it is immensely difficult for regulators to strike a balance between consumer interest and objectives of other stakeholders. Sharma commented when Media Partner Asia executive director and co-founder Vivek Couto asked about heavy-handed TV regulations.

"The objective of TRAI is to ensure the interest of consumers, stakeholders, distributors and creators and ensure there is a growth of the sector. Since 2004 to 2017, there were price caps. If you put these price caps, it disincentivises the producers. Why should I keep any control on pricing? The industry thinks the regulator is heavy-handed and the regulator thinks they are light touch. The basic approach TRAI has had in regulating this sector is that we have adopted a light-touch approach and allowed market forces to operate in this space. We believe that the market is the best determinant and accelerator for the adoption of new technologies and satisfying consumers, so long as there is fair play, transparency, non-discrimination. Then, we don’t need to intervene.”

Sharma emphasised that for regulators consumers’ choice will always have major importance.

Speaking about the evolution of the sector and change in consumption patterns of viewers, he pointed out that proliferation of cheap data that will drive OTT services.

According to the new tariff order (NTO), consumers could choose the TV channels they want to watch and pay only for them at maximum retail prices (MRPs) set by broadcasters, instead of the pre-set bouquets offered earlier. It was said that the NTO will make channels cheaper but it seems prices of like-to-like option went up. Sharma argued that the amendments to NTO and the TRAI channel selector app were introduced to make things transparent for consumers.

“As technology moves forward, with 5G, there will be more disruption and change in watching habits. Emerging trends will necessitate a new framework. Regulation should ensure that technological developments are not throttled or scuttled. They should be allowed to grow and take place," he said.

Meanwhile, the ministry of information & broadcasting additional secretary Atul Kumar Tiwari spoke on the contentious subject of regulatory structure for OTT platforms. He said, "We invited them to come back to us with some kind of self-regulatory mechanism. We would like to have a light-touch regulation but there has to be some kind of regulation on the streaming content."

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