Finally, finally, finally.

The Indian government, specifically – the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting – has issued guidelines for IPTV services in India. With this, private telecom operators like Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications, as well as Internet Service Providers and Cable Operators can offer the service can offer the service. The guidelines are expected to be made available today, but here’s what we have so far:

Who can provide IPTV Services
If they already have the the license or permission from the DoT,
— Telecom operators which have a UASL license
— ISPs with a net worth of over Rs. 100 crores, which have permission to provide IPTV services can go ahead without any further registration.
— Cable TV Operators registered under the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 1995

Cable Operators and Telcos need to give a declaration to the I&B Ministry, Department of Telecom and TRAI, with details of date of commencement of the service, the area being covered and details of network infrastructure.

We’ll have more inputs on this, when the guidelines are uploaded on the MIB site…but looks unlikely, given that the MIB has tagged  documents from 2007 as NEW.

Some thoughts on the journey so far, for IPTV in India

Despite the go-ahead, it’s going to be a long, hard struggle for IPTV in India. Which also explains why telecom operators like Airtel and Reliance Communications are hedging their bets by investing in both DTH and IPTV.

Franchise Operations: Too Many Cooks?
Take a look at the MTNL Mumbai site for IPTV. MTNL is offering IPTV services powered by both Aksh Optifibre and IOL Netcom. So you have different tariff plans for both, different selection of channels. As a consumer, I’ll have to choose between multiple service providers – Aksh, IOL Netcom, Time Broadband and now, Smart Broadband. Why not have a ubiquitous offering?

Circles Of Disconnect
BSNL and MTNL appear to be operating in the same manner in which their telecom operations have been – different circles operate independently, and IPTV service providers have to deal with, for example, the Mumbai and Delhi circles for MTNL operate independently, and have tied up with different franchisees. A centralized system would allow IPTV service providers a single point of contact, and ubiquitous communication to consumers. At present, you keep hearing about BSNL launching IPTV in some part of Rajasthan, a delay in Kolkata…

Regulatory Ambiguity
Over the past couple of years, IPTV has been at the centre of a regulatory issue which is a case study for how, with convergence, regulatory ambiguity can affect your business. IPTV was deemed as both a content service, and a telecom service. The problem is – broadcast content comes under aegis of the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, while Telecom comes under the Department of Telecom (DoT), and is regulated by the TRAI. Mobile TV faces the same issues in India – it’s a broadcast technology, a content service and telecom operators want in because it can also (not “only”) be received on mobile handsets.

Legacy of Licenses – IPTV & DTH
A key issue still remains: Airtel group company Bharti Telemedia is offering both DTH and IPTV. The company, reportedly, has Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) of over 74 percent. The problem here is that DTH is only allowed for companies with Foreign investment of 49 percent, of which the FDI component can only be 20 percent. So both broadcast services – IPTV and DTH – are looked at differently under law. Airtel should separate the two, like many media companies have separated News businesses from Non-News.

Poor Deployment Or Just Poor Communication?
If IPTV was expected to prevent the decline of wireline services in India – forget-about-it. The marketing and advertising from MTNL and BSNL has expectedly been terrible. Most consumers would know DTH, but would never have heard of IPTV. Take a look at MTNL’s IPTV page, and compare it with the site for, say, Tata Sky or Dish TV.

DTH Wins
The switch from analog cable to digital cable and DTH is a key event in the broadcast business in India. This gradual switch, mandated by the government, involves a cost to the consumer – she has to invest in a set-top-box (STB). The cost of switching, particularly the cost of the (STB) acts as a lock in for consumers, who wouldn’t want to pay for yet another STB. Bear in mind that some service providers were offering free STBs to lure consumers.

IPTV, which was earlier being pitched as competition for DTH, is not being considered more “elite” a service in India – so they’ll try to skim the market. So DTH has won that battle, and I don’t think IOL Netcom has reached their target of 300,000 subscribers by the end of 2007, or MTNL their target of 200,000. So DTH has won the battle, and the war for the consumer has been one-sided so far.

Follow up: India’s IPTV Guidelines: VAS, New Channels Require Govt Approval

Related:

Smart Broadband To Launch IPTV Services With HFCL And MTNL; An HFCL Group Company?
Is Airtel Getting Its IPTV & DTH Act Together?
Is Videocon Looking To Acquire Loss Making IPTV And VoIP Co IOL Netcom?
Why The Decline In Wireline Subscribers Isn’t Good For India