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Convergence India 2009: Uncertain regulations can stall digitisation

By Tarana Khan , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | March 19, 2009
In a panel discussion on broadcast regulation, speakers were of the opinion that the regulation in India is incomplete and uncertain

The 17th Convergence India conference, organised by Exhibitions India, was held in New Delhi on March 18. The conference and exhibition showcases services and technologies for the broadcasting industry.

In the panel discussion on the regulatory aspects of the industry, the panellists discussed how regulation helped or impeded the growth of broadcast media and distribution.

The session was chaired by Lt Col (Retd) VC Khare, technical advisor to BECIL (Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Ltd) and the panellists were Simon Twiston Davies, chief executive officer, CASBAA; Roop Sharma, president, Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI); and Anshuman Sharma, chief legal and regulatory affairs officer, Tata Sky.

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Sharma of Tata Sky started the discussion by saying that whenever there is a lack of complete regulation, it leads to disputes among stakeholders.

Khare agreed, commenting tongue-in-cheek that the government changes whenever the pending Broadcast Bill is brought to the table!

Davies spoke about his experience in other Asian markets. "Our experience is that governments need to step back as much as possible and intrude little," he said. In India, he added, there is great uncertainty about regulations. As a result, inefficiencies have been introduced into the market.

Davies cited the example of Philippines, where it took 10 years to develop a broadcast bill and still, there is no clarity. Due to the uncertain regulatory environment, the digital penetration is only 8 per cent after 15 years.

He also spoke about the importance of copyright laws. "The content creators should be able to protect the content and get returns on their investments," he said.

Picking up the point on copyright, Sharma of COFI said that the Cable Television Act 1995 is very stringent and penalises the cable operator for undesirable content shown by the broadcaster. "The cable operator is only the carrier of the content," she protested.

Sharma also said that there should be strict regulation to control cross media holdings among broadcasters, which leads to a monopoly situation and gives them dominance over the distribution network.

Responding to the charge of under reporting by cable operators, Sharma said that broadcasters were in fact overcharging cable operators. She justified this by saying that consumers don't watch every channel but distributors have to buy the whole bouquet.

Davies added that consumers should exercise their right to choose the channels they want to watch and drop the ones which have too much advertising or unwanted content.