For yet another
indication of how the Internet is pushing the boundaries between different media, look no further than the telecom regulator's recent missive on the fledgeling Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) services. Under the domain of telecom operators so far, IPTV services may soon be open for cable operators as well.
For long, cable operators have been demanding a level playing field with telecom players, who were becoming virtual cable operators with their IPTV services. In line with this, TRAI has recently released a position paper that proposes that cable operators and multi-system operators (MSOs) can also offer IPTV services without any special licence or registration being needed.
IPTV seems to be an organic step for cable operators to grow as they already control the last mile. And many companies associated with IPTV services see the TRAI proposal as a positive step for the IPTV market in India. According to Rahul Sood, vice-president, distribution and affiliate sales, NDTV, "Entry of cable operators will definitely make the IPTV market more competitive and open more avenues for content creators to distribute their content."
And there is a belief that, if allowed, cable operators can offer better IPTV services. Prasanth Mohanachandran, executive director, Neo@Ogilvy, says, "Cable operators can offer better services and MSOs like Hathway and Incable have the capability to do so. Infrastructure such as cable networks is not going to be an issue, but cable network players need to work hard to manage the storage hub." He also emphasises the need for standardisation of equipment like set-top boxes.
Rajesh Seth, vice-president, e-commerce, IOL Broadband, which is the only serious IPTV content provider as yet, says, "Cable operators have the capability to offer IPTV services and they have shown in the past 20 years that they can change with technology; for example they are now offering broadband facilities as well." IOL Broadband has tied up with MTNL to offer the IPTV service in Mumbai.
Perhaps the TRAI proposals are a ray of sunshine for cable operators, but they are not jumping with joy. Says Ashok Mansukhani, president, MSO Alliance, "The implication for cable operators in offering IPTV is very positive, but the DOT amendment of the ISP Guidelines of August 24, 2007, limits IPTV to operators with a net worth of at least Rs 100 crore. This, in effect, excludes the entire cable TV industry and benefits telecom service providers."
Arvind Mohan, executive vice-president, Wire & Wireless India Ltd, feels that there is a need for consultation before releasing a position paper. He says, "The position paper is contradictory right from the content to the FDI cap for telecom and cable operators." Giving examples of contradiction in the content, he points out that telecom operators are not liable for the TV channel content, while cable operators will be liable for TV channel content beamed on IPTV. Also, there is a different foreign direct investment (FDI) limit allowed for cable operators (49 per cent) and telecom operators (74 per cent).
Cable operators also believe there is a need to formulate a convergent legislation to cover cable/ DTH/ IPTV/ mobile TV and that equal FDI caps should be in place for both telecom and cable operators. Although cable operators have yet to get back to TRAI on the position paper, it appears that it'll take a lot more ironing out before IPTV finally establishes itself in India.