The sense that I got from the TRAI open house discussion on Mobile TV that I attended last friday, is that it is an issue of legacy of licenses, rather than of technology. Stakeholders exist across telecom operators and broadcasters who appear to be fighting over whether the service is going to be regulated as a content service or a carrier service. Carriage requires a separate license — Cellular Mobile Telephone Service (CMTS) license for mobile telephony, ISP for Internet services, Univeral Access Service (UASL) for a number of services; a DTH license for Direct to Home service.
At the same time, content needs to abide by the (controversial) content code, and is regulated by the Cable TV act and requires permissions for uplinking and downlinking. Some stakeholders – like CDMA operator group AUSPI and broadcaster Zee – appear to be trying to exclude other stakeholders so as to get exclusivity over Mobile TV in India. In such a situation, the policy needs to be more inclusive than exclusive. However, with different licensing conditions and foreign direct investment (FDI) limits for different services – Cable TV, ISP services, Telecom, Broadcast services – the government will be hard pressed to reconcile all the licenses; hence they’re trying to create a separate breed of service providers called Mobile TV operators.
As Rakesh Mehrotra of Tata Sky said repeatedly during the Open House: there needs to be a separation of content from carriage. If that goes through, then it’s probably that content will be regulated by the Ministry of I&B and maybe the yet-to-be-formed Broadcast Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI), while the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) shall oversee carriage.
Now the content situation appears to be compounded by on-demand content, particularly local content which can be varied from city to city in case of mobile TV. As long as it is a broadcast TV channel, it needs to conform to set rules, but regulating content on a city-wise basis will be a monumental task for any regulator. During the discussion, another issue that cropped up was the regulation of the Internet, which again can be classified as on-demand content.