The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) has asked the telecom regulatory authority of India (TRAI) for recommendations on issues relating to transmission of local channels or ground based channels operated by multi-system operators (MSOs) and local cable operators (LCOs). MIB has asked TRAI for recommendations on whether there needs to be a set of provisions for local channels in terms of registration mechanism, including eligibility requirements, fee, terms and conditions, as well as views on putting a cap on the number of such channels.

Cable TV operators/MSOs transmit local news, videos and other locally developed content as a separate televisions channels in addition to satellite TV channels obtained from broadcasters. Currently, these channels are not subjected to a regulatory framework unlike private satellite TV channels permitted under the uplinking/downlinking guidelines of the Ministry. These channels had been permitted by the TRAI in 2008 (rather, they’d been in operation, and the TRAI “regularized” them).

Apart from the regulation aspect, the ministry also feels that the intent of allowing local channels to keep the locals updated about the local issues, has not been fulfilled.

Why is this important?

With greater amount of spectrum available for broadcasting content, there is a possibility that 4G networks can be used to share localised content: while this hasn’t yet begun, there are localised music content channels available over IVR, which aren’t regulated. How will the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting deal with this scenario? This content, while available, isn’t exactly broadcast – it’s either a case of multi-cast, or video on demand. With users also generating their own content – CGNet Swara being a prime example of a news network over mobile that is user generated – how will the ministry regulate that?

Related developments

In December 2012, MIB had sought TRAI’s recommendation on measures to prevent monopolistic operations of cable operators in India, both Local Cable Operators (LCOs) and Multi System Operators (MSOs, which aggregate LCOs). Earlier, the Ministry had made a reference to TRAI on 16th May 2012 to examine and recommend measures to address issues of cross media restrictions and safeguards. This is the third time that MIB has sought TRAI for recommendations to regulate the channels operated by LCOs/MSOs. 

Other developments: Recently, TRAI had recommended that that no state body (like the state or central government) should be allowed to own or distribute its own television channel.

(with inputs from Nikhil Pahwa)