In our submission to the TRAI on Digital Terrestrial Transmission (DTT; essentially Mobile TV), we’ve pointed towards the Internet as a far more open, democratic and efficient mode of enabling Freedom of Speech than broadcast, and hence asked for spectrum allocated to DTT to be used for Internet access, and content licensing to be scrapped because we need more diversity and plurality in content creation. A summary of our submission:
- Openness in utilization of spectrum: A public interest usage for spectrum must be rooted in the philosophy of openness: that information must be made available in a manner that is transparent, free, non-discriminatory, neutral, unconditional, and without prejudice. Any utilization of public resources such as spectrum should not impose any restrictions on the users ability create and distribute information and content, within the ambit of existing laws. There should be no restrictions, based on:
- The ability of the creator or the user of the information or content to create this information or content
- The identity of the creator or the user of the information or content.
- The purpose of the creator or the user of the information or content, especially whether it is commercial or non-commercial in nature.
- The interpretation of the information or content, once transmitted
- How people react to the information once disclosed and/or reused, remixed or repurposed.
- A billion creators from India: We have the potential in India to have a billion creators, and give them the freedom to chop, change and remix audio, video, text and interactivity to reimagine new experiences for other users, who are also creators. Creators should not be denied the opportunity, by sticking to an outdated regime which limits creation to only a few players, and the utilization of spectrum to just a few distributors, thereby limiting most Indians to the act of consumption. This is best evidenced by Internet Service providers, in their role of transferring data packets between users: For users to have confidence in the operation of an exchange, the exchange needs to be neutral. To enable a billion creators, we need low friction, predictable systems, ideally without having to negotiate agreements between creators and distributors.
- The separation of content from carriage: It is essential for plurality and diversity that content be separated from its carriage. This creates a separation and clarity in terms of incentives: the interest of the content providers remains in the creation of valuable content, while the interest of the carriage provider will be in terms of allowing more content, so as to attract more consumers for the content. A marriage between content and carriage, wherein a content provider also owns carriage, lends itself to conflict of interest issues related to anti-competitive practices such as the restriction of certain competing content providers, limiting of content to only select providers, or influencing the quality of service of certain content providers.
- The Internet is a better allocation of spectrum than broadcast: There are already other restrictive content distribution mechanisms, such as DTH and Cable TV, so adding Mobile TV, DTT and IPTV to the list will not help content providers.When the TRAI held the consultation on Mobile TV in 2007, we were still in the GPRS era, and at that time, Mobile TV, for consumption, was far superior to mobile over data networks. Networks, content providers and consumers have evolved since then. Globally, consumers are choosing the Internet over cable TV and DTH, and IPTV has clearly failed in India.
The Internet allows all users to create: This was recognized by the Indian telecom regulator TRAI in the explanatory memo to its February 2016 discriminatory data pricing regulations when it observed: “… First, unlike traditional markets where there are, for the most part, distinct producers and consumers, on the internet, users are also content producers.”
Ideally, this spectrum should be made available in an unlicensed manner for community Internet access. Alternatively, given the lack of competition in the telecom space, it may be auctioned to new entrants only.
- Doordarshan has failed to provide a viable, robust model for DTT: It first trialed DTT in 2006. In 11 years since then, it has failed to execute its plan to even complete its rollout, leave alone develop a consumer base and a device ecosystem for DTT. The world is shifting from linear content delivery to asynchronous viewing and time-shifting. Users don’t want to be restricted to the schedule of a TV Channel, and the only medium where synchronous viewing is pervasive is with live TV.
- Licensing of content providers limits content creation in digital transmission: Licensing of content is flawed at its very core. The Supreme Court of India, in the case of Ministry of I&B v. Cricket Association of Bengal has held that:
“[a]irwaves being public property, it is the duty of the State to see that airwaves are so utilized as to plurality and diversity of views, opinions and ideas. This is imperative in every democracy where freedom of speech is assured. The free speech right guaranteed to every citizen of this country does not encompass the right to use these airwaves at his choosing. Conceding such a right would be detrimental to the free speech rights of the body of citizens in as much as only a privileged few – powerful economic, commercial and political interests – would come to dominate the media.”
Licensing of content negatively impacts diversity and plurality of content, by limiting provisioning of content to only licensed entities, and allowing concentration of power in the hands of few. It creates barriers to entry: only those creators who have the wherewithal to bid for or acquire licenses are given the opportunity to create and distribute content. Licensing of content lends itself to excessive state control over its creation and distribution. This is unnecessary, especially given that there exist constitutional restrictions to free speech, under Article 19(2), and further controls via control over over distribution of content via licensing are unnecessary and unwarranted. Thus, content licensing needs to be scrapped.
During the consultation process in 2007 on the issue of Mobile TV, which is essentially a type of Digital Terrestrial Transmission, the Zee Network had sought the creation of a Universal Broadcaster license. We oppose any such move to create further licensing, though we would agree that if, and only if, content licensing is to remain, it must be platform agnostic, in which case a universal broadcaster license, covering all types of broadcast content, including FM Radio, would suffice.