Local TV channels — supposedly run by your local cable operator showing movies, music videos and local news — could finally come under the regulatory net.

The government has taken note of recent trends, whereby such local, ground-based channels are actually being transmitted to much wider geographical areas, becoming de facto regional or national channels — without facing any of the regulations that govern registered satellite channels.

The Information and Broadcasting Ministry has asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to suggest regulations for the local channels that have mushroomed over the last few years without any registration or license.

The problem arises from the fact that the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 does not actually define what is the area in which programming generated at the level of a cable operator can be transmitted. As a result, it’s easy for the larger operators to transmit the same content over their entire network, and even share it with other operators in other States. In fact, there are multi-system operators which merrily transmit multiple “local” channels.

“The intent of allowing cable operators to generate and transmit local programmes is to keep the people informed of relevant local issues,” says a statement from the Ministry. “However this intent is not fulfilled when LCOs and MSOs start networking of the content to cover a larger geographical area. Given the present state of technological advancement, the tendency to network content at a larger geographical area has gained strength.”

New TRAI regulations may help create a level playing field with national and regional broadcasters who have actually procured permits under the government’s uplinking and downlinking guidelines.

The need for regulations becomes more critical owing to digitalisation.

The TRAI has been asked if there is a need to cap the total number of ground-based channels that can be operated by a single MSO or cable operator.

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