The Ministry of I&B has sought the recommendations of TRAI regarding issues relating to transmission of local channels or ground based channels operated at the level of cable TV operator/MSOs. In its reference to TRAI, the Ministry has sought to know whether there was a need to put in place a comprehensive set of provisions for local channels which would cover issues related to registration mechanism, including eligibility requirements, fee, terms and conditions to be provided for such channels, including the definition of local or ground based channels and their area of operation.
In the said reference to TRAI, Ministry has also sought its views with regard to the issue of transmission of local channels at local cable operator level in Digital Addressable System (DAS) regime. TRAI in its recommendations dated 25th July, 2008 had, inter-alia, recommended that Local Channel Operators (LCOs) shall be permitted to transmit their ground based channels. However, in the current DAS regime only digital addressable signals can be carried out on the cable network which is generated at the MSO head end. The Ministry in its reference has also requested TRAI to state whether there was a case for putting a cap on the total number of ground based channels operated by a single MSO/cable operator.
TRAI has also been requested to examine whether there was a need to prescribe separate eligibility criteria for cable operators transmitting local news and current affairs channels at their level. Specific recommendations have been sought with regard to eligibility criteria, terms and conditions including foreign investment levels, net-worth criteria and requirement of security clearance etc. for such channels.
The need for putting in places a regulatory framework for local channels being operated at the level of Cable TV operators has been engaging attention of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for quite some time. This has assumed a greater significance in view of the digitization of cable TV sector being implemented in the entire country in a phased time bound manner. Presently, Cable TV operators/MSOs are transmitting local news, videos and other locally developed content as a separate televisions channels in addition to satellite TV channels obtained from broadcasters. These channels, popularly known as local channels, are presently not subject to a regulatory framework unlike private satellite TV channels permitted under the uplinking/downlinking guidelines of the Ministry. As a result, local channels continue to mushroom all over the country without having registration /license.
Since the area/jurisdiction within which the programme generated at the level of cable operators can be transmitted has not been defined in the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, it is possible for Local Cable Operators (LCOs)/Multi System Operators (MSOs) operating at the local levels to broadcast local channels over a larger geographical area i.e at Regional/State/National level by transmitting the same content over their entire network. Instances have been brought to the notice of the Ministry that some cable operators are also venturing into transmission of local channels over wider geographical area which includes inter-state and intra state transmission by sharing the same content with others on their network. In such a scenario, local channels are basically operating as State/Regional/National channels like permitted private satellite TV channels without getting any permission. The intent of allowing cable operators to generate and transmit local programme is to keep the local people informed of relevant local issues. However this intent is not fulfilled when LCOs and MSOs start networking of the content to cover a larger geographical area. Given the present state of technological advancement, the tendency to network content at a larger geographical area has gained strength.