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Centre moves to tame cable cartels

- I&B ministry taps Trai for ways to curb monopolistic practices

New Delhi, Dec. 16: The government plans to rein in cable operators in cities other than metros, where digitisation has started.

The information and broadcasting ministry has sought the views of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on ways to prevent monopolistic practices by multi system operators (MSOs) and local cable operators (LCOs). Trai regulates broadcasting in addition to telecom.

Amendments are planned to the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, to introduce a mechanism that will allow viewers to demand and access channels they want to subscribe.

Minister Manish Tewari wrote to Trai recently asking whether “restrictions” were needed on some operators. “In order to ensure fair competition, improved quality of service and equity, should any restriction be imposed on MSOs/LCOs to prevent monopolies/accumulation of interest? If yes, what restrictions should be imposed and what should be the form, nature and scope of such restrictions?” he said in the letter.

LCOs, the neighbourhood operators, manage and run networks. MSOs are larger agencies that receive feeds or signals from broadcasters or their authorised agencies and pass them on to LCOs.

“It has been observed that the cable TV distribution is virtually monopolised in some states as the entire network is dominated by a single entity,” he said in the letter.

At present, the minister said, there are no restrictions on “accumulation of interest in terms of market share” in a city, district, state or country by operators. “It is felt that such monopolies may not be in the interest of consumers and may have serious implications in terms of competition, pricing and healthy growth of the cable TV sector in that market,” Tewari added.

Some steps have already been taken. It has now become a must for MSOs to register with the ministry to operate in areas where analogue signals will make way for digitisation. Earlier, registration with local post offices was enough.

In May this year, the ministry had asked Trai to come up with suggestions to address issues of cross-media restrictions and safeguards. Such curbs aim to prevent a group from owning/operating channels, cable TV operations and other media outlets.