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Cable operators write to TRAI for OTT regulation

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has received several representations, particularly from cable operators, to bring over-the-top (OTT) platforms under its regulatory ambit to create a level-playing field.

In view of increasing competition from streaming platforms, traditional cable operators said they feel threatened by the rise of the OTT services.

However, the regulator has been taking its time to arrive at a decision. While chairman P.D. Vaghela emphasized the need for pricing forbearance, Trai is conducting a study on licensing OTT content, and is expected to release a consultation paper.

Some experts said Trai can only regulate tariffs, and not content. “Our view is it is better to reduce regulatory compliance for sectors under control, rather than bringing new categories under regulation, in order to create a level-playing field,” said Anil Kumar Bhardwaj, advisor, broadcasting and cable services, Trai.

The regulator has received representations from service providers, such as local cable operators, and it is examining the issue, he said.

“A consultation paper addressing the implications of free channel availability on DD Free Dish will be published, and the OTT issue will also be addressed depending on the comments from all stakeholders,” Bhardwaj said.

In January, Kolkata-based Ideal Cable Operators Association, in a letter, urged Trai to consider framing regulations for OTTs. Fibernet Operators Federation has also written a sperate letter to the information and broadcasting ministry, advocating the withdrawal of live channels on OTT platforms and introdcuing licence fees for such services.

While talks are underway on a single regulator for broadcasting services, Trai’s scope is limited to tariffs, and content falls under the purview of the information and broadcasting ministry, said Kaushik Moitra, partner, Bharucha & Partners. “Principally, TRAI cannot regulate OTTs without allocating licences. The issue is languishing for now,” Moitra added.

A senior executive from a streaming platform argued that distribution platforms should not be concerned if broadcast networks choose to stream their content online. The primary concern lies with general entertainment channels, as news content largely attracts viewers on platforms like YouTube and Facebook.

The executive further mentioned that given the already low ARPU (average revenue per user) in India and the heavy investments made in content and customer acquisition, streaming platforms also need to survive.

He suggested that cable operators can invest in hybrid boxes that can offer linear television channels alongside streaming platforms, similar to DTH (direct-to-home) players like Tata Play, to remain relevant. “We understand it’s tough for them because that entire market is dominated by telco providers but it’s a free market and not all stakeholders are equal,” the person added. Live Mint

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