Scatmag.com

July 2018

LOCAL CABLE CHANNELS BANNED BY TRAI TARIFF ORDER?



INTRODUCTION

Local cable channels typically carry unique content generated locally. The content may include local news, coverage of local events such as school plays, festive gatherings etc. Sometimes local cable channels also carry pirated content such as movies etc.

As per the Cable Act 1995, a local cable channel does not require any specific licence to operate. However, the local cable channel must abide by all the guidelines of the cable act and cannot include any pirated content. The responsibility of the local cable channel rests entirely with the headend. If the local cable channel carries pirated content, the local police can shut down the headend and impound the headend equipment.

Sometimes local cable operators inject their own local cable channels on the MSO (Headend) feed. Even in such a case, the headend is held legally responsible.

In DAS networks, it is not possible to insert a local cable channel by the LCO without the active support of the digital headend. The digital headend must allocate a channel number in the EPG so that set top boxes can identify and play out the local channel.

Local channels are generally extremely popular and in past years, when DAS monitored their viewership, the combined viewership of local channels exceeded that of the most popular Hindi GEC channel!


PLANNED REGULATION

During the past couple of years, The I & B Ministry has indicated its intention to regulate local cable channels. However there has been no specific regulation declared nor has the TRAI floated any consultation paper on regulating local cable channels.





TRAI'S 2017 TARIFF ORDER

On 3 March 2017, TRAI declared its "The Telecommunication (Broadcasting And Cable) Services (Eighth) (Addressable Systems) Tariff Order, 2017."

The tariff clauses order has been challenged by Star India and has been stayed by courts. A final judgement is expected shortly, after which the order may be implemented at least for the sections not contested by Star India.

The 2017 Tariff order essentially consists of 2 parts, viz:

1. Tariff Of Channels

2. Reporting By Service Providers


SURPRISE CLAUSE

Clause 2: 'Definitions' defines various terms used in the tariff order. Clause 2.1(zh) defines a "Television Channel" as:

2.1(zh) "television channel" means a channel, which has been granted downlinking permission by the Central Government under the policy guidelines issued or amended by it from time to time and reference to the term "channel" shall be construed as a reference to "television channel."


Only Channels Granted Downlinking Permission Are Now Permitted
- Effectively Making Local Cable & DTH Channels Illegal.


Further, Clause 2.2 states:

"all other words and expressions used in this Order but not defined, and defined in the Act and rules and regulations made thereunder or the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 (7 of 1995) and the rules and regulations made thereunder, shall have the meanings respectively assigned to them in those Acts or the rules or regulations, as the case may be."

This effectively means that all terms defined in this (3 March 2017) Tariff order gain precedence to definitions in the Cable Act 1995.

All TV Channels are recognised only if they meet the definition of the 2017 Tariff Order.


ONLY DOWNLINKED CHANNELS PERMITTED

In effect, Clause 2.1(zh) states that only channels granted downlinking permission are allowed.


DTH ALSO IMPACTED

DTH platforms also carry a plethora of their in-house channels or 'services', providing a variety of options from child learning, to entertainment and Pay Per View movies.

The 2017 Tariff order, effectively bans all these channels or 'services.'


INTENTIONAL?

It's not clear if the TRAI's intentions have been to quietly declare Local cable Channels as illegal, without specifically and explicitly mentioning the ban.

If the TRAI's new definition of channel is unintentional, it needs to be changed and clarified by the regulator.

Clearly, the clause that could ban all local channels on Cable TV, DTH, and IPTV platforms, needs to be provided widespread publicity that it deserves amongst distribution platforms, and maybe even challenged in a court of law. n

SCaT has filed an RTI, requesting clarification. We will keep our readers informed.