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Hathway rides high on digital wave as TRAI looks into MSO monopolies

Hathway and Den have emerged as the leading multi-system operators (MSO) in terms of the seeding of digital set-top boxes (STBs) as India's telecoms regulator raises questions about the stifling of competition during the ongoing digitisation of India's cable TV network.

A consultation paper from the Telecoms Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) reveals that in the first two phases of nationwide digitisation, Hathway had connected 23.5% of the STBs, Den 18.5%, Siticable 11%, IMCL 10.6%, Digicable 10.1%, Fastway 6.3%, GTPL 6%, KAL 3%, and others accounting for 11% combined

TRAI has issued the paper to stakeholders to examine, on behalf of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, if 'reasonable restrictions' should be placed on MSOs and local cable operators (LCOs) to restrict operational areas or subscriber bases to curb monopolies.

"It has been observed in some states that a single entity has, over a period of time, acquired several multi-system operators (MSOs) and local cable operators (LCOs), virtually monopolising the cable TV distribution," the regulator said.

"Such monopolies or market dominance are clearly not in the best interest of consumers and may have serious implications in terms of competition, pricing, quality of service and healthy growth of the cable TV sector."
While recognising the MSO completion in Delhi, Karnataka, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Maharashtra, TRAI points out that a single player has become dominant in Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Odisha, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.

In some cities, says TRAI, a single MSO dominates over 80% of the market for digital addressable systems. Many larger MSOs have sought to acquire smaller MSOs or LCOs, and then provide them with more favourable terms and financial assistance. Furthermore, dominant MSOs are sometimes creating barriers of entry for new players and distorting competition, according to TRAI. Larger scale operations can improve their bargaining power with broadcasters for cheaper content, but also impose greater carriage fees.

Cable TV connections constitute about 60% of the total TV homes in India, with direct-to-home (DTH) TV comprising about 35% of the market. Back in 1992, the number of cable TV homes stood at 410,000, while by the end of March 2012, 94 million Indian homes had cable. There are currently about 6,000 MSOs, 60,000 LCOs, seven DTH TV operators, a handful of IPTV service providers and one terrestrial TV operator, Doordarshan. Between them, these operators carry 828 TV channels.

TV penetration in India currently stands at about 60% of the total number of households.

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