TRAI provides its recommendations on certain issues relating to Direct to Home (DTH) service

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008
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NEW DELHI — The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has sent its recommendations today to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting on certain issues relating to Direct to Home (DTH) service. A consultation process was earlier initiated by the Authority by issue of a Consultation Paper on “Issues Relating to DTH” on March 2, 2007. The consultation paper covered interconnection issues, quality of service issues and other regulatory issues relating to DTH services. The Authority subsequently held an open house discussion in Bhubaneswar on May 18, 2007 on the subject. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had also sought recommendations of the Authority on Technical Interoperability of Set-top Boxes (STB) as well as to examine the possibility of allowing DTH operators to provide signals to cable operators in KU-Band.

2. Accordingly, the Authority has communicated its recommendations as follows:

(i) Clause 7.1 of DTH license agreement requires that the DTH operator must provide a set top box which is technically interoperable among different DTH service providers, and that the set top box should conform to the standards laid down by the Government from time to time. At present, these standards prescribed by the Government incorporate, among others, MPEG 2 compression format as a requirement for the set top box. Now, due to subsequent technological development, MPEG 4 compression format is available which results in considerable savings in the bandwidth and transponder requirement. However, a set top box based on MPEG 2 compression format cannot be used for receiving signals of another DTH operator who is employing MPEG 4 compression format, which affects the license condition relating to technical interoperability. After considering the need for protecting consumers’ interests and also the difficulties associated with upgrading millions of set top boxes already sold to the subscribers, the Authority has made the following recommendations on the issue of technical interoperability:

  1. The issue of revision of standards for DTH set top boxes should be taken up by the Government with the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) so that the standards laid down by BIS for DTH Set Top Boxes are updated for advanced technologies.
  2. Revision of standards should be prospective and should apply to DTH subscribers who are enrolled after six months from the date of such revision. Such revision should not compulsorily require the DTH operators to upgrade the STBs of existing subscribers to conform to revised standards, though they would be free to do so on their own.

(ii) The second issue relates to allowing DTH operators to provide signals to cable operators in KU Band. The existing DTH license conditions permit DTH operators to provide signals in KU band only to consumers directly without any other intermediary. The Authority has looked at this issue from the point of maximizing competition among different delivery platforms so that the consumer has enough choice. In this regard, the Authority had recently sent its recommendations dated 17.10.2007 regarding transmission of digital signals to the cable operators through Head End in the Sky (HITS) both in C band and KU band, which will in turn enable the cable operators to supply digital signals to the consumers. Thus, the consumers will have enough choice from among DTH operators, digital cable operators through HITS and conventional analogue cable operators. It was, therefore, felt that it is necessary to maintain a clear distinction between DTH and HITS, and this distinction would have been blurred if DTH was also allowed to offer KU band signals to cable operators. Therefore, the Authority has recommended that DTH should continue to supply signals only to the consumers directly and not to any other intermediary. At the same time, in order to maintain level playing field with HITS operators who may use both C band and Ku band for transmission, the Authority’s recommendation is that the DTH operators should also be permitted band neutrality and should be allowed to operate in both the bands by amending the DTH guidelines.

3. Further, the Authority has also examined clause 7.6 of the DTH license conditions which reads as follows:-

“7.6 The Licensee shall provide access to various content providers/ channels on a non-discriminatory basis.”

This clause is mistaken by some stakeholders to mean “must carry”, i.e., the DTH operators must carry all the channels in a non-discriminatory manner when so approached by broadcasters. However, Hon’ble TDSAT in its order dated 31.3.2007 in petition no. 189 (C) of 2006 (M/s. Tata Sky Ltd. v/s. M/s. Zee Turner Ltd. & ors.) has held that clause 7.6 of the DTH license agreement does not imply ‘must carry’. The Authority has noted that the aforementioned judgment of TDSAT has clarified the position in this regard and no purpose will be served by amendment of the clause 7.6 of the DTH license conditions. The Authority is further of the view that the market forces and competition will ensure that the DTH platforms will select the channels in a non-discriminatory manner. The DTH operators should select the channels in a fair and equitable manner, which would enable various content providers to negotiate constructively. Accordingly, no amendment in clause 7.6 of the DTH license conditions has been recommended.

4. It is expected that these recommendations on DTH will further protect the interests of consumers, while leading to a healthy competition among the DTH operators as well as with other delivery platforms.

More: Recommendations on Interoperability and other issues relating to DTH