With the new Union Cabinet announced yesterday, I sincerely hope that Andimuthu Raja, the returning Minister for Communications & IT, and Ambika Soni, the newly appointed Minister of Information and Broadcasting learn to work together. Over the next five years, there will be several areas of overlap and conflict between the two ministries, but more importantly, there will be areas of collaboration as policies will need to be defined for new services. The conflict and collaboration between content and carriage will only increase with convergence.

The Biggest Battle Yet

Nowhere is this going to be as evident as in the case of Mobile TV (rather, Wireless TV). This will be the biggest battleground between broadcasters and telecom operators, and the ministers must together ensure that the final policy remains neutral to both sides, allowing the free market to prevail over lobbying and protectionist considerations. To that end, it is vital that India’s Mobile TV policy should not be preceded by the auction of 3G spectrum. Doing so will give telecom operators an undue advantage in rolling out a competing service, albeit using a different techonology. This is what afflicted IPTV as well: a delay in launch due to the lack of a finalized policy, allowed a competing service (DTH) to gain significant ground. The policy must be neutral, but the timing should also not offer undue advantage to any stakeholder.

(Read about Doordarshan’s Mobile TV Plans here and here)

Content Code, Copyright & An Media Agnostic Approach

A Content Code may have been defined by the broadcasters, but content is no longer exclusive, or theirs alone. With time, TVs will offer Internet access and PCs will have easier access to TV content: with greater interactivity, there needs to be greater clarity regarding user generated content on TV and the Internet. On the Internet, the protection of copyright of content owners needs to be protected, the issue liability of platforms like Blogger, WordPress.com and YouTube, as well as ISPs, needs to be defined.

The new IT act covers much of this, but the rules finalized need to take into account mass copyright violation that these online platforms enable and often monetize. Policy needs to be be media agnostic – why should streaming of radio on DTH be restricted? Should music played on telecom voice portals be a part of the content code? What about online Radio?

In particular, the I&B Ministry, which looks into content issues, needs to start thinking beyond just broadcasters and look at policy making from a converged media perspective: as an example – why should IPTV, Mobile TV be limited to the same content as Cable?

There are, of course, other issues to consider:

Unbundling For Both DD And PSU Telcos

There is unbundling required in case of both the Telecom and Information & Broadcasting sectors: Prasar Bharati needs to share terrestrial broadcasting infrastructure, and take on the role of an infrastructure service provider. Doordarshan enjoys the widest reach among broadcasters (content), primarily because of its infrastructure and monopoly over terrestrial broadcasting. This is owned by the public, and why should the people be denied more choice?

Similarly, BSNL and MTNL are losing wireline subscribers rapidly. If the local loop is not unbundled and fixed line number portability not introduced, it will only hasten the switch to wireless networks. The Congress Party has mentioned in its manifesto that disinvestment will be back on the agenda, particularly with a reduced dependancy on the Communists, so a listing for BSNL is on the cards, primarily with the purpose of merging BSNL and MTNL.

Broadband

One reason why we are disappointed that Dayanidhi Maran wasn’t made the Telecom Minister, is his focus on broadband: as the Telecom Minister, he was constantly pushing broadband during his tenure – with first 256kbps being set as the lower limit for a connection to be deemed broadband, and then the push for BSNL to begin offering 2mbps (albeit, with data limits). And, there was less hyperbole.

The Congress Partys manifesto, though not as unrealistic as the BJPs, promises little for either sector: offering only to provide broadband connectivity in all villages in three years time. That’s a plan that is already being implemented through the Common Service Centres, and which frankly doesn’t appear to be more than a digital post office. More needs to be done for broadband, and it is most likely that India will take the mobile route to broadband. In order to make mobile broadband more affordable, the market skimming approach adopted by BSNL and MTNL needs to go.

Please feel free to critique, or add your perspective/opinion.