India’s Ministry of Information has made it mandatory for multi-service operators (MSOs) and Cable operators to provide data to it when asked, specifically keeping in mind the digitization of the cable industry in India, and the deployment of set top boxes. In a statement, the ministry has said that “While assessing the preparedness of DAS in four metros, the Ministry has come across numerous inconsistencies of data provided by the service providers, particularly MSOs, in regard to inventory position of STB and its deployment.”
Cable TV networks in the four metro cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai have to be digitized by 31st October 2012, extended from 30th June 2012. The purpose of digitization was essentially to address a long standing issue for the government – the collection of taxes from the cable industry, which has always seen instances of under reporting. If the information being provided by the MSOs and Cable operators to the ministry has inconsistencies, then we wonder what the actual situation must be like. In any case, policy deadlines are rarely met.
The ministry has amended the Cable Television Network Rule, 1995 (Cable Rules), to add a new rule (10A), making it obligatory for MSOs and cable operators to “provide information as and when it is sought for by the Central Government or State Government or authorized officer or any agency of the Central Government.” In addition, “the obligation to furnish information under the amended rule 10 A has been incorporated as one of the terms and conditions of registration of cable operator under Rule 5 A and MSOs under rule 11 D.”
There are punitive provisions in place: As per sub-section (7) of section 4 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, the Central Government may suspend or revoke the registration of cable operators or MSOs if they violate one or more of the terms and conditions of registration.”
The addition of these rules enforces transparency and perhaps allows us to get a better idea of digitization of TV connections in India, but it also gives additional power to government, and allows government functionaries to threaten to cut connections unless certain conditions are met. Whether this change of rules will lead to an increase in transparency remains to be seen, but it does lead to an increase in regulation.
Note that any information provided by MSOs to the I&B Ministry should ideally be available under the Right To Information Act, so we get more info to work with.