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The curious case of quid pro quo actions of former TRAI secretary SK Gupta

The alleged messiah of cable operators, Gupta was suitably rewarded in December by Dish TV as the DTH major appointed him as an independent director on the Board for five years

Sunil Kumar Gupta

The 3 crore consumers of the non-compliant cable operators belonging to All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF) stopped receiving their favourite channels of Disney Star, Zee and Sony beginning Saturday.

AIDCF and the broadcasters’ body Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation (IBDF) on Sunday hurled barbs at each other and held each other responsible for the ongoing impasse.

Additionally, local cable operators were heard alleging the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) of working at the behest of broadcasters.

For the cable operators, who are the only examples of monopoly in the area they operate with no competition whatsoever, the whole ecosystem including broadcasters and the regulator is against them.

Time and again, reported that the provisions of NTO from the cap on discounts on bouquets to the cap on MRPs of channels for the inclusion in bouquets to the network capacity fee (NCF) were devised by the former TRAI secretary Sunil Kumar Gupta on the behest of the cable operators.

The alleged messiah of cable operators, Gupta was suitably rewarded in December by Dish TV as the DTH major appointed him as an independent director on the Board for five years.

The local cable operators, who are cursing the current dispensation at the regulator for working on the behest of broadcasters, must realise that the NTO created by their alleged messiah has held the entire industry back for close to four years, especially their own growth.

What other proof do they want to believe that Gupta made his fortunes on the back of their miseries?

Gupta being the secretary of TRAI was convinced by each theory of cable operators against the broadcasters.

Some of the popular hypothetical theories are – 1. top broadcasters are creating monopolies and suppressing the interests of cable operators; 2. top broadcasters are pushing their unwanted channels through bouquets; 3. top broadcasters need to be tamed through price regulation.

Gupta was so much influenced that he also started using the term “those five broadcasters”.

Cut to today, the new dispensation at TRAI talks about forbearance and relies on extensive consultation with all stakeholders in their effort to clear the NTO mess.

The current dispensation decided to solve the issues related to NTO in two parts due to its complex nature because of the involvement of multiple stakeholders.

Broadsters’ part was taken up first and it was decided that the second amendment related to the cable sector will be done after an extensive consultation process with cable operators.

It was broadcasters who had challenged the provisions of NTO 2.0 in the Supreme Court and hence their part was taken up first by the regulator to avoid a legal battle that was not going anywhere.

Even before the regulator would pick the cable sector’s issues in the second phase of consultation, they started mounting pressure on TRAI by not accepting the provisions of NTO 3.0 and challenging it in various High Courts across the country.

Questions are being raised on the intentions of cable operators as literally, nothing has changed in NTO 3.0 compared with the first NTO.

The dual conditions on the bouquet formation were introduced by Gupta in NTO 2.0 at the behest of cable operators. And, increase in the cap on discounts will benefit the end consumer.

Then why are the cable operators so rattled? Do they sense any threat over the network capacity fee (NCF) that IBDF says was responsible for the rise in cable bills for consumers?

NCF ensured a fixed income of Rs 130 per connection from consumers over and above the income from broadcasters.

Whatever may be the intention of cable operators or whoever is misguiding them, it is the end consumer base of 3 crore households who are devoid of their favourite television channels.

If the current impasse continues, it would be cable operators on the losing side as the consumer will move to other mediums as soon as possible.

The wokeism to protect the interests of the public will not be of any gain for cable operators because the same public will leave their platforms to avoid such ruckus in their daily entertainment dose.

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