The draft Indian Telecommunication Bill 2022, released last week seems to have created an upheaval in the broadcast industry which is now asking for the formation of an inter-ministerial committee. “The new bill falls under convergence, hence no single ministry can really create a regulatory framework. These ministries, including Electronics and Information Technology and Information and Broadcasting besides Niti Aayog, need to come together to create a regulatory framework,” said a leading broadcaster, on the condition of anonymity.
The draft bill describes, telecommunication services as communication services, audiotex services, videotex services, fixed and mobile services, internet and broadband services, satellite-based communication services, internet-based communication services, in-flight and maritime connectivity services, interpersonal communications services, machine-to-machine communication services, over-the-top (OTT) communication services besides broadcasting services, electronic mail, voice mail, voice, video and data.
The draft clearly indicates the government’s intent to bring the OTT apps including streaming apps under the licensing regime. Industry experts call this move in line with international trends. “Licensing is not new. A global phenomenon and in India in radio, television broadcasting etc too. It helps create a common framework and acts as a stimulating economic value creation system,” Sunil Lulla, Chief Evangelist, The Linus Adventures, said.
When compared with the US market, the scenario in India is not different. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines cable, satellite and similar providers as multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs). (OTT) delivery is defined as the delivery of video programming over the Internet. FCC’s efforts to address the issue of OTT video and audio delivery have been stalled.
When it comes to the media industry, broadcasters pay Rs 32 lakh on an annual basis for C-band frequency. Additionally, a broadcaster pays Rs 2 lakh annually as a fee for uplinking of a channel and Rs 5 lakh for downlinking. In this case, uplinking and downlinking of a channel usually happen in India. Thus, a broadcaster ends up paying Rs 7 lakh on an annual basis. However, the cost reduces if a broadcaster downlinks from abroad. In this case, the broadcaster such as Culver Max Entertainment (earlier known as Sony Pictures Network India) ends up paying Rs 5 lakh for downlinking annually. “Most of these rules are not applicable to the OTT industry as there is no uplinking or downlinking of content. So the government can create different slabs for categories of players based on turnover,” said a leading OTT player, who did not want to be named.
Interestingly, a few players also look at this move to finally regulate the OTT sector. The government which has been mounting pressure on the sector to create a self-regulatory body seems to have hit a dead-end, with the industry split into two. One is led by Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and is called the Digital Media Content Regulatory Council (DMCRC). It consists of a second-tier mechanism at the appellate level. The other one rests under the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI). This particular body’s code of conduct has been dismissed several times, first by its members and then by the government. “At the end, once the storm settles, in all probability the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) will be appointed the regulator,” said a senior media executive, on the condition of anonymity.
Also Read: Gaming needs push from all: I&B joint secy