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Consultation promised on Indian regulator’s digital TV guidelines

India's Minister for Information and Broadcasting Ambika Soni has assured digital television stakeholders that they will be consulted before the final decision is taken on the cable TV tariff and distribution recommendations issued by the regulator last week.

Multi system operators (MSOs) have largely welcomed the guidelines issued by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), however many broadcasters are concerned about the high carriage fees they could be charged by cable companies. The industry estimates that channels are currently paying almost INR 4,000 crore in carriage fees each year.

"Digitalisation is going to be the biggest reform in the broadcast sector and will enable operators to expand their revenue sources by providing more choice and variety to customers," Soni said at the ASSOCHAM 6th Annual Summit on Entertainment and Media on Friday (4 May).

"The TRAI notification is part of a move to shift the country's analogue cable system to digital as part of an effort to improve quality and expand the reach besides ensuring that all subscribers can be accounted for," she added.

While welcoming the shift to digitization, Roop Sharma, president, Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI), expressed concern about the manner that it is being managed.

Speaking at the ASSOCHAM event in New Delhi, she said: "TRAI is behaving like a controller instead of a regulator and the information & broadcasting ministry is behaving like a dictator. We are not happy with the INR 45 share in its proposed tariff plan for cable operators as this will lead to unemployment."

The Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF) has expressed concern about carriage fees, though saluted the 'must carry' clause under which distributors must increase their carrying capacity to a minimum of 200 channels from 1 July this year and 500 channels from 1 January 2013.

India's labyrinthine cable TV network is to be digitised in various stages by the end of December 2104. Phase one will be implemented across the four metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata by the end of June 2012.

Consumers should benefit from more television channels; attractive tiering options with multiple genres and local, regional and niche content; an improved viewing experience; better quality of service; and benefits from intense competition between cable and direct to home (DTH) operators.

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