The Government of India, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on 9 September granted permission for the operation of Internet Protocol Television (IPTV). The detailed guidelines relevant in this regard have been issued by the ministry.
Telecom access service providers with a licence to provide triple play services, and internet service providers with over Rs1 billion and permission from the licensor, or any other telecom service provider duly authorized by Department of Telecom, can provide IPTV services under their licence without requiring any further registration. Cable TV operators registered under the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 1995, may also provide IPTV services without any further permission.
Before a telecom licensee or cable operator can provide IPTV services, they are expected to submit a self-certified declaration to the ministry with details of the license or registration under which the IPTV services have been proposed. Information regarding the starting date, the area being covered, and details of the network infrastructure are also necessary.
The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) is in the process of publishing a set of standards to be used for set top boxes, which service providers of IPTV are mandated to comply with no later than six months after these standards have been issued.
Cable operators providing IPTV services continue to be governed by the cable act, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, Act, 1997, and any other laws as applicable. Since IPTV content falls within the purview of the cable act, it should conform to the Programme and Advertisements Codes prescribed.
While providing IPTV, telecom licensees are only allowed to broadcast satellite televisions channels in exactly the same form (unaltered), which are registered with, or are otherwise permitted by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Service providers should ensure that channels prohibited either permanently or temporarily, or those unregistered with the ministry, are not transmitted.
The provisions of the Programme Code and Advertisement Code under the cable act are applicable even in the case of content other than TV channels from broadcasters, provided by the telecom IPTV service provider.
Since telecom licensees will be providing this content, they will be responsible for ensuring compliance to the codes with respect to such content. In addition to this, licensees will also be bound by the various acts, instructions, directions and guidelines issued by the central government for the purpose of regulating content.
The IPTV service provider, either a telecom licensee or a cable operator, should provide commercial interoperability. In other words, along with offering the receiver set on an outright purchase basis, a subscriber should also have the option to purchase it on a hire-purchase basis or on a rental basis with a provision to returning the receiver set, on the terms and conditions laid down by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.
This will enable subscribers to switch over to other service providers or platforms without incurring high costs.
The IPTV service provider must ensure the preservation and retention of different kinds of content made available to subscribers for a period of 90 days, unless specified otherwise, and is required to ensure its security to prevent any tampering during that period.
Further, service providers are also required to supply the facilities necessary for continuous monitoring of the IPTV network at their own cost, and to maintain the recordings of programmes and advertisements carried on the network for a period of 90 days, unless specified otherwise, from the date of broadcast.
These recordings should be submitted to the government or its authorized representative, as and when required. The monitoring system must provide set top box subscriber details and content information, including details on equipment, records and systems to law enforcement agencies in plainly readable, audible and viewable formats, for inspection purposes.
Many large companies such as Mahanagar Telephone Nigam (MTNL) and Reliance have already taken steps to acquire licensing rights for IPTV, equipping themselves with the latest technology.
As consumer demand for entertainment combines with greater internet access, IPTV is set to become an important and fast-growing medium for audiences in India.
The country is expected to have one million IPTV subscribers by 2011, according to statistics from a recent broadcast technology convention. This demand for new media will require innovation from a company perspective, in terms of offering a wider scope of services and ensuring that viewers can enjoy quick access coupled with sophisticated content and technology.
Manoj K Singh is the managing partner and Daizy Chawla is an advocate at Singh & Associates, Advocates and Solicitors, a law firm based in New Delhi.