Rapid development of new generation of services demands upgradation of the distribution network infrastructure to meet customer requirements. Infrastructure sharing is a process wherein competitors join hands to share their resources for faster expansion – in terms of the geography as well as the capacity – and to lower the cost of servicing their subscribers. This provides scope for the service provider to invest in new technologies to provide better services. The decision relating to sharing of infrastructure is usually a commercially driven process rather than a mandated process. The benefits of infrastructure sharing are well recognized by the industry as it lowers the cost of network deployment and maintenance.

The basic character of television channel distribution network is to downlink the signals of satellite television channels at a central location and disseminate the same to multiple subscribers in broadcast mode. In channel distribution, increase in the number of service providers distributing channels does not mean increase in carrying of number of channels to subscribers. In other words, in all likelihood the competing distributors would be carrying almost the same channels in a particular geographic region as the demands of subscribers of that region would be similar. Keeping in view this character, infrastructure sharing will have a number of benefits in distribution of television channels. Presently, though the sharing of infrastructure is not specifically prohibited in broadcasting distribution networks, however, certain conditions in the registration guidelines or relevant rules are acting as deterrent for service providers to act in this direction.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was invited by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting to examine the issue of infrastructure sharing by MSOs, LCOs, and HITS operators in consultation with all the stakeholders of the broadcasting and cable TV sector. Subsequently, the Authority submitted recommendations on the amendments that may be required in the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 and Rules to facilitate infrastructure sharing.

Recommendations Need for Facilitating Sharing of Infrastructure in TV Broadcasting Distribution Network Services

The Authority recommends that:

The central government should encourage sharing of infrastructure, wherever technically feasible, in TV broadcasting distribution network services, on voluntary basis. While sharing the infrastructure with another distributor of TV channels, the responsibility of compliance to the relevant Acts/rules/regulations/license/orders/directions/guidelines would continue to be of each distributor of TV channels independently; and

Each distributor should undertake to ensure encryption of signals and addressability of subscribers in all circumstances; and to provide access to all the systems and the networks, used to provide broadcasting distribution network services, to the concerned broadcasters for the purpose of audit as per the regulations and the authorized officers of the governments and their representatives, whenever demanded.

Infrastructure Sharing in Cable TV Segment

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The Authority recommends that:

On voluntary basis, sharing of head-end used for cable TV services and transport streams transmitting signals of TV channels, among MSOs, should be permitted; and

The MSO, willing to share its transport stream of TV channels with another MSO, should ensure that the latter MSO has valid written interconnection agreements with the concerned broadcasters for distribution of pay-TV channels to the subscribers.

To enable sharing of head-end used for cable TV services, the Authority recommends that the MSO registration condition regarding having an independent digital head-end of his own and provide digital addressable cable services from his head-end' should be suitably amended so as to allow sharing of the head-end.

Infrastructure Sharing in HITS Platform

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The Authority recommends that:

HITS operators and MSOs should be allowed to share the HITS platform, on voluntary basis, in flexible ways, for distribution of TV channels provided that the signals of HITS platform are distributed to subscribers through local cable operators only and the encryption of signals, addressability, and liabilities are not compromised;

The sharing of transport streams transmitted by HITS platform, between HITS operators and MSOs, should be permitted;

The HITS platform should not be allowed to be used as a teleport for uplinking of satellite TV channels; and

The HITS operator, willing to share its transport stream of TV channels with an MSO, should ensure that such MSO has valid written interconnection agreements with concerned broadcasters for distribution of pay-TV channels to the subscribers.

To enable sharing of the HITS platform and transport streams transmitted by HITS platform, the Authority recommends that the guidelines for providing HITS services should be suitably amended.

Infrastructure Sharing in DTH Services

The Authority recommends that:

To ensure efficient use of scarce satellite resources, the DTH operators, willing to share DTH platform and transport stream of TV channels, on voluntary basis, should be allowed to do so with prior written intimation to MIB and TRAI;

To allow a new DTH operator to use the existing DTH platform and transport streams of TV channels transmitted on that platform, the conditions relating to hiring of satellite capacity and setting up of earth station should be amended suitably;

A DTH operator providing DTH services using the shared infrastructure with another DTH operator, should be allowed to establish, maintain, and operate his own DTH platform at a later date, within the license validity period, if he decides so, after following the due procedure;

An easier process should be put in place to ensure continuity of services to subscribers in the event of any disaster. One of the ways in which it could be ensured is sharing of the main and the disaster recovery site in hot standby mode with the prior approval of the licensor; and

The DTH operator, willing to share its transport stream of TV channels with another DTH operator, should ensure that the latter DTH operator has valid written interconnection agreements with concerned broadcasters for distribution of pay-TV channels to the subscribers

To enable sharing of the DTH platform and transport streams transmitted on the DTH platform, the Authority recommends that the guidelines for providing DTH services should be suitably amended.

Sharing of CAS and SMS by Distributors of TV Channels

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The Authority recommends that:

Distributors of TV channels should be permitted to share the common hardware for their SMS applications. The details of such arrangements should be reported to the MIB, the Authority, and the concerned broadcasters, 30 days in advance; and

Distributors of TV channels should be permitted to share the common hardware for their CAS applications. The details of such arrangements should be reported to the MIB, the Authority, and the concerned broadcasters, 30 days in advance.

The Authority recommends that each distributor should be made accountable for ensuring the integrity and security of the CAS and the SMS data pertaining to such distributor.

The Authority recommends that each distributor should maintain the backup of transaction logs and data of the CAS and the SMS, on near-real-time basis, for at least past two years, at any point of time, on a secondary storage device.

The Authority recommends that each distributor should undertake to provide access of the CAS and the SMS, used to provide broadcasting distribution network services, to the concerned broadcasters for the purpose of audit as per the regulations and the authorized officers of the governments and their representatives, whenever demanded.

The Authority recommends that the license/registration/permission conditions relating to distributors of TV channels should be amended suitably.

Provisioning of Signals of TV Channels and Sharing of Transport Streams of TV Channels in a Shared Environment

The Authority recommends that:

The distributor, sharing its infrastructure and transport streams of TV channels with other distributors of TV channels, should set up systems and processes which ensure that the broadcasters are able to exercise their right of disconnection of signals in case of default of payment or due to any other reason, in terms of the interconnection agreement entered into between the broadcaster and the distributor and the relevant regulations in place;

For ensuring the legal enforcement of processes put in place by the distributor for protecting the rights of the service providers, the necessary conditions need to be included in the agreements entered into between different service providers; and

The distributors, sharing the infrastructure, should put in place necessary technical arrangements for detecting the specific pirate in the unlikely event of any such incidence, and satisfy the broadcaster's reasonable concerns at the time of initial audit itself.

Amendments in NOCC and WPC Guidelines for Enabling Infrastructure Sharing

The Authority recommends that MIB should take up the issue of infrastructure sharing with DOS, WPC, and NOCC to pave a way for sharing of transponder capacities by operators, and necessary amendments, if any, should be carried out in the licenses/permission letters.