Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) operators were asked (pdf) to send a self-certified declaration by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and Department of Telecommunication by March 30.

The form needed to contain details such as licensing information, launch date, the area being covered and the details of the network infrastructure. The Ministry said the policy guidelines for IPTV issued in 2008 had in Clause (ii) provided that all telecom licensees or cable operators will have to give the self-declaration before offering IPTV services.

What this indicates, is that the ministry has little idea how many IPTV players exist in India as of now. This looks like an attempt to figure out how many people are using the service nationally, but it’s not clear if the government plans to amend IPTV policies based on this data.

Is IPTV irrelevant? As of today, very few IPTV services exist: Bharti Airtel has an IPTV service that it never talks about even in its quarterly report – and the last time we spoke with them about it (in April 2009), they were looking at it more as a premium service for a select set of customers, and shifting focus to DTH. Then there is Bangalore-based ACT Broadband and its sister concern Beam Fiber that still offer IPTV services, but it’s not clear how many of its broadband subscribers also use the IPTV service.

Reliance Communications launched IPTV pilots, but that never moved beyond the pilot stage. We haven’t heard of Aksh Optifibre’s IPTV service for MTNL for a while now, Time Broadband has shut down, and IOL Netcom, a BSE listed company that ran a pilot service for MTNL, barely appears to be functioning. As per an RTI we’d filed a couple of years ago, MTNL Delhi had 5910 IPTV connections, paying Rs 298.69 per paid connection.

With TV going down the time-shifting path (recording shows on set top box for later viewing) and over the regular internet on platforms such as YouTube, IPTV seems to have no advantages left. Most of the other features such as interactivity and program guide that were earlier available only in IPTV services are now common place in all DTH connections. It is not clear if some of these companies plan to launch hybrid Dish-IPTV connections in India, but that’s a path no one has bothered with as yet.

Apps vs IPTV: TV channels and operators are opting for apps to deliver TV channels over the Internet instead of launching a highly regulated IPTV service. Airtel, Dish TV and Tata Sky have launched apps that will let people watch TV on their iOS or Android device via the Internet for a small fee. As far as these operators are concerned they don’t need to worry about paying any licensing fee to the government or about any of these regulations applicable to IPTV services.

That being the case, IPTV only makes sense as an add-on to an Internet connection, but then again since most TV channels upload their content on YouTube or other online services, making IPTV look less attractive.

Main points mentioned in IPTV guidelines of 2008

– Who can launch IPTV service: As per the guidelines any telecom service providers with license to provide triple play services and ISPs with net worth more than Rs 100 Crores that have permission from the licensor to provide IPTV will be able to provide IPTV service without requiring any further registration. Similarly cable TV operators registered under Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act 1995 can provide IPTV services without requiring any further permission.

– Licensing fees: It is calculated as a percentage of Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) and at present it is 6%, 8%, and 10% in category C, Category B and category A circles and 6% for ISPs. Telecom service providers offering IPTV services shall have to pay the license fee on IPTV revenue also as applicable to its telecom license.

Set top boxes used for IPTV services will meet BIS specifications.
– The Cable operators while providing IPTV services will continue to be governed by the provisions of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act,1997 and any other laws as applicable.
– Telecom licensees while providing TV channels through IPTV shall transmit only such broadcast satellite television channels in exactly same form (unaltered) which are registered with or are otherwise permitted by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
– Telecom Licensee shall receive the satellite signals of a registered TV channel directly from the broadcasters and in no case such satellite signals of TV channels be taken directly from the Multi System Operators, while providing services through IPTV.
– Telecom service providers providing IPTV will show only those News and Current Affairs television channels which have been registered with Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
– IPTV service provider either a telecom licensee or a cable operator should provide commercial interoperability so that if the subscribers decide to switch over to any other service provider or platform they should be able to do so at least cost.

Read the complete IPTV guidelines here (pdf).

Also read: Sahara Planning An IPTV Venture? Why?
Why Not Do Away With All IPTV Regulations In India?

Note: The headline was changed from ‘Why did government ask IPTV operators to file self-declaration forms?’