Wireless networks
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This article has been written by Vishwa, pursuing a Diploma in Media and Entertainment Law: Contracts, Licensing and Regulations and has been edited by Oishika Banerji (Team Lawsikho).

It has been published by Rachit Garg.


Over-the-top (OTT) platforms changed the way we entertain ourselves. They bypassed cable, broadcast, and satellite television platforms. Despite the extraordinary rise of OTTs in the past few years, millions of families in India still have cable televisions. OTTs have not yet succeeded in fully replacing cable televisions. As per statistics, in the year 2020, there were 103 million cable television households across India. It proves that cable televisions play a vital role in Indian households. The Government of India understood the importance of cable television and the need to regulate cable television networks, so, the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 was enacted. Let us have a close look at the same.

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History and object of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995

The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 (hereinafter referred to as “the Act”) was introduced to tackle the unexpected surge in the number of cable television (TV) networks and satellite broadcasts in the early 1990s. Cable TV is a system of TV reception in which signals from distant stations are picked up by a master antenna or receiver and sent by coaxial or optical fibre cables located at the subscribers’ premises.

Regulating the haphazard booming of cable TV networks was the main object of the Act. Due to the absence of legislation regulating cable TV networks, many cable TV operators broadcasted TV programmes as per their whims and fancies. There was no legislation governing the content that was being broadcasted by them. There were also no guidelines as to the quality of service provided by the cable TV operator. All these reasons led to the enactment of the Act.   

The need for legislation to specifically regulate cable TV networks was strongly felt by the Rajasthan High Court in the landmark case of Shiv Cable TV System v. State of Rajasthan (1993), which is discussed later in this article.

Regulation in cable television network 

The Act regulates cable TV networks in two distinct ways. First, it regulates the authorization of cable TV operators to provide the services. That is done by making it mandatory for cable TV operators to be registered. Secondly, it regulates the types of content that can be broadcasted by them. The Act is divided into five chapters and twenty-three Sections. It came into force on the 29th of September, 1994. The Act is further supported by the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994

Who is a cable operator

As per Section 2(aiii) of the Act, a cable operator is a person who provides cable services through a cable TV network, or controls or manages the operation of a cable TV network and fulfils the eligibility criteria that may be prescribed by the Central Government.

Who is a subscriber 

Under Section 2(i) of the Act, a subscriber is any person who receives the signals of a cable TV network at a place indicated by him to the cable operator, without transmitting it to someone else. Under the Act, the person may be an individual, association, company, organisation, or body. A subscriber is basically a person who avails the services of the cable operator in consideration of a payment.

Authority under the Act

The authority under the Act is the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (hereinafter referred to as “TRAI”.) TRAI is a statutory body established under Section 3 of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997. It is the principal regulator of the telecommunication sector in India.   

Registration of cable operators

Section 4 of the Act mandates the cable operator to be registered by applying to the registering authority. The process of registration is provided both under Section 4 of the Act and Rule 3 of the Rules. To become a cable operator, one must fulfil certain eligibility criteria and file the registration application. The eligibility criteria are as follows-

  • His equipment should be compliant with the Rules;
  • Must possess GST registration
  • Be open for inspection by officials of the Ministry of Broadcasting and Information.

Registration process

The process for registration as a cable operator has a few steps namely- application, examination, and certificate of registration, as explained below.


The process of registration begins when the cable operator applies with the TRAI. The application is called Form I. Its format is given the Rules. The application should be accompanied by-

  • A registration of INR 500/- (Rupees Five Hundred only), and
  • Submit the documents required.

The following are the documents that may be required for the registration are-

  • PAN Card
  • Aadhar card
  • Proof of registration of business
  • Address proof
  • Cancelled cheque
  • Identity proof of partners, promoters, or directors of the cable operator (if any)
  • Details of the area where the cable operator wishes to provide his services
  • List of the cable operator’s hardware equipment
  • List of channels being provided or proposed to be provided
  • Copy of challan vide which the registration fee has been deposited

The application and the fee should be deposited in the Head Post Office where the application for registration is being made. The fees must be deposited under the Head ‘Un-Classified Receipts’ (U.C.R.)


The application is then examined by the TRAI under Section 4 of the Act. TRAI will check whether or not all the required documents are submitted.

Certificate of registration

If TRAI is satisfied with the documents submitted by the applicant, it will grant him a certificate of registration under Section 4(5) of the Act. The format of the certificate is provided in Form 3 in the Rules.

Renewal of registration

Under Rule 3(1) of the Rules, the cable operator registration should be renewed after every 12 months. The process of renewing is the same as registration. A renewal application should be made along with a fee of INR 500/- at the Head Post Office, addressing the TRAI. The fees must be deposited under the Head ‘U.C.R.’ The application should be accompanied by the same set of documents that were filed along with the application for registration. After the examination of the application, the TRAI will renew the applicant’s registration.

Duplicate certificate

A duplicate Registration Certificate can be also availed under Rule 3(3)(b) of the Rules. The process of obtaining a duplicate Registration Certificate is the same as registration. For that, an application should be made along with a fee of INR 250/- at the Head Post Office, addressing the TRAI. The fees must be deposited under the Head ‘U.C.R.’ The application should be accompanied by the same set of documents that were filed along with the application for registration. After examination of the application, the TRAI will issue a duplicate Registration Certificate. The format of the duplicate Registration Certificate is provided in Form 3A in the Rules.

Power of the TRAI to refuse registration or renewal

Under Section 4(5) of the Act, after examining the application, the TRAI may refuse to grant the Registration Certificate, its renewal, or the duplicate Registration Certificate. It may happen due to the non-fulfilment of eligibility criteria, failure to furnish the necessary documents or fees, or any other reason. Whatever the reason, it shall be communicated to the applicant by way of writing. Such a refusal can be appealed to the Central Government.

Power of the TRAI to suspend or revoke the registration

Under Section 4(7) of the Act, the Central Government may suspend or revoke the registration if the cable operator violates one or more of the terms and conditions of such registration. But before such suspension or revocation, he shall be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard.

Digital addressable system

Section 4A of the Act allows the Central Government to impose on all cable operators the obligation to transmit or re-transmit the programmes of any channel in an encrypted form through a digital addressable system. Encrypted form means the changing of a cable TV network’s signal in such a way that it can be decoded by using an addressable system only. An addressable system is an electronic device used to decode the signals of any cable TV network.

Section 4A(3) of the Act allows the Central Government to direct the TRAI to specify certain free-to-air channels that must be included in the package of channels forming the basic service tier of the cable operators. The basic service tier is a package containing free-to-air channels offered by a cable operator to the subscribers, which the subscribers can opt for by paying a single price.  

Section 4A(3) of the Act also allows the Central Government to direct the TRAI to specify certain genre-wise channels for providing a mixture of programmes of entertainment, information, education, etc. TRAI can also fix the tariff for the basic service tiers.  

Also, Section 4A(5) of the Act makes it compulsory for cable operators to publicise information like subscription rates, the standard of quality of service, and subscribers’ grievance redressal mechanism at prescribed regular intervals.  

Right of way for cable operators

Section 4B of the Act gives all cable operators the right to lay and establish cables and erect posts under, over, along, across, in or on any immovable property which is under a public authority’s control or management. To establish such cables or erect posts, the cable operator must send a request to the public authority. The said Section also provides that Central Government may lay down guidelines for the State Governments for-

  • Speedy disposal of cable operators’ requests for laying cables or erecting posts, and
  • Speedy dispute settlement as to the refusal to grant permission for laying cables or erecting posts.

Upon receiving the request, the public authority may impose certain reasonable conditions, and then permit the cable operator to do any or all of the following acts-

  • To place and maintain underground cables or posts, and
  • To periodically enter the immovable property to place, examine, repair, alter, or remove the cables or posts.

As per the public authority’s option, the cable operator is obligated to reinstate or restore the immovable property or pay the reinstatement or restoration charges. Considering public interests, the public authority may require the cable operator to remove, shift, or alter the position of any underground cable or post within a specific period. The cost for such removal, shift, or alteration of the position shall be given by the public authority itself.

Programme code

Section 5 of the Act mandates everyone to transmit or re-transmit through a cable service only those programmes that conform with the programme code, which is provided in Rule 6 of the Rules.

The programme code provides an exhaustive list of types of programmes that should not be transmitted or re-transmitted by the cable operator. Some of the prohibited types of programmes are the ones that-

  • Offends against good taste or decency;
  • Contains criticism of friendly countries;
  • Contains visuals or words contemptuous of religious groups or promote communal attitudes;
  • Contains anything obscene, defamatory, false, etc.;
  • Contains anything that amounts to contempt of court;
  • Denigrates (criticises) women or their bodies in a way that is likely to corrupt public morality;
  • Denigrates children
  • Contravenes any provision of the Cinematograph Act of 1952,
  • Contains anything affecting the integrity of the country, etc.

The programme code also lays downs the following obligations on the cable operator concerning the programmes carried in his cable service-

  • He must strive to protect women in a positive, leadership role of sobriety, moral and character-building qualities;
  • For carrying any programme for which copyright under the Copyright Act of 1957 subsists, he must be granted a license from the original copyright owners of the programme;
  • He should take due care to ensure that the programmes that may be potentially watched by children do not contain any bad language;
  • He should not carry any TV broadcast or channel which is not registered by the Central Government for being watched in India.

Advertisement code

Section 6 of the Act mandates everyone to transmit or re-transmit through a cable service only those advertisements that conform with the advertisement code, which is provided in Rule 7 of the Rules.

The advertisement code provides that the advertisements carried in any cable service should conform with the laws of the country and not offend the subscribers’ morality, decency and religious sentiments.

The advertisement code also provides a list of qualities which advertisements carried in cable services should not possess. Some of such qualities which no advertisement should possess are as follows-

  • Deriding any race, caste, colour, creed, or nationality;
  • Against any provision of the Constitution of India;
  • Tending to incite people to crime, cause disorder, or breach of a law;
  • Exploiting the national emblem, any part of the Constitution of India, a national leader, or a State dignitary;
  • Projecting a derogatory image of women;
  • Exploiting social evils like dowry and child marriage;
  • Directly or indirectly promoting the production or consumption of cigarettes, tobacco products, alcohol, infant milk substitutes, feeding bottles, infant food, etc.

Few other types of advertisements prohibited under Rule 7 of the Rules are as follows-

  • Advertisements directed towards any religious or political end;
  • Advertisements affecting religious sentiments;
  • Advertisements of goods or services prohibited by the Consumer Protection Act, 1986;
  • Advertisements containing indecent, vulgar, or offensive themes, etc.

The advertisement code also imposes a cap on the duration of advertisements in programmes. The maximum duration of advertisements carried in any programme is 12 minutes per hour, which may include up to 10 minutes of commercial advertisements and 2 minutes of the channel’s self-promotional advertisements.   

Maintenance of register

Section 7 of the Act mandates every cable operator to maintain a register to briefly record the programmes transmitted or re-transmitted by him during a month. The register should be maintained by him for at least one year from the transmission or re-transmission. The format of the register is provided in Form 5 in the Rules.  

Compulsory transmission of certain channels

Under Section 8 of the Act, the Central Government may specify certain Doordarshan channels or Parliament-operated channels, which every cable operator should re-transmit. Such re-transmission should be made without any deletion or alteration of any programme transmitted on such channels.

Standard equipment

Section 9 of the Act prohibits all cable operators from using any equipment or digital addressable system in their cable TV network unless it conforms with the Indian Standards established by the Bureau of Indian Standards under the Bureau of Indian Standards Act, 1986.   

Interference with any telecommunication system

Section 10 of the Act requires every cable operator to ensure that his cable TV network does not interfere with the functioning of any authorised telecommunication systems. The cable operators must also make sure that their cable TV network conforms with any standards that may be prescribed by the Central Government.  

Inspection of cable networks and services 

Section 10A of the Act gives the right to inspect the cable networks and services to the Central Government, its authorised officers, or any authorised agency. The Central Government can exercise its right to inspect without taking any prior permission or intimation. However, the inspection should be generally carried out after giving reasonable notice, except in cases where the service of notice defeats the purpose of such inspection.   

Seizure and confiscation of certain equipment

Chapter III of the Act deals with the seizure and confiscation of certain equipment of the cable operator. Under Section 11 of the Act, any authorised officer may seize any cable operator’s equipment, if the cable operator contravened the provisions of Sections 3, 4A, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10 of the Act. However, in case of a violation of Sections 5 and 6, the authorised officer can seize the equipment related to the programming service provided on the channel generated at the cable operator’s level. The authorised officer may be within one’s local limits of jurisdiction-

  • A District Magistrate,
  • A Sub-divisional Magistrate,
  • A Commissioner of Police, or
  • Any other officer notified by the Central or State Government.

Further, the seized equipment shall be confiscated under Section 12 of the Act if the cable operator fails to register himself as a cable operator under Section 4 of the Act within 30 days from the date of the seizure. But the order for confiscation can be done only after giving the cable operator a written notice mentioning the grounds on which the confiscation is proposed. The notice should also give him a reasonable opportunity to make a written representation within a specific time. The notice should be given within 10 days from the date of the seizure; if not, the seized equipment should be returned to the cable operator himself.

Nevertheless, such seizure or confiscation shall not bar the cable operator from being subjected to any other punishment under the Act. After the order of confiscation has been passed, the cable operator can appeal only once. The order passed by the Appellate Court shall be final.

Offences and penalties 

Any person who contravenes any provision of the Act is liable for punishment under Section 16 of the Act. The courts shall take cognizance of any offence committed under this Act only if a written complaint is made by any authorised officer. The punishment under this Act is-

  • For the first offence: Imprisonment for a term up to 2 years or fine extending to INR 1000/- or both,
  • For every subsequent offence: Imprisonment for a term up to 5 years and fine extending to INR 5000/-.

In case any offence under the Act is committed by a company, under Section 17 of the Act, every person who was in charge of the company and its conduct at the time of the offence shall be liable to be punished. However, he shall not be held liable for the offence if he proves that-

  • The offence was committed without his knowledge, or
  • He had exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of the offence.

Further, in case of any offence committed under this Act by a company, if it is proved that the offence was committed with the consent or due to the negligence of any director, manager, secretary, or officer of the company, then he shall be held liable to the punishment.

Prohibition of certain programmes

Section 19 of the Act empowers any authorised officer to issue an order in the public interest prohibiting any cable operator from transmitting or re-transmitting any programme or channel on the following grounds-

  • Not in conformity with the programme or advertisement code,
  • Likely to promote disharmony, enmity, or hatred on grounds of religion, race, language, etc., or
  • Likely to disturb public tranquillity.

Prohibition of certain cable network television 

Under Section 20 of the Act, in the public interest, the Central Government can prohibit the operation of any cable TV network in any specific area.

The Central Government can also regulate or prohibit the transmission or re-transmission of any channel or programme in the interest of-  

  • Sovereignty, the integrity of India,
  • India’s security,
  • India’s friendly relations with any foreign State, or
  • Public order, decency, or morality.

Landmark cases

  1. Union of India v. Board of Control for Cricket in India and Ors (2017)

In this case, the re-transmission of live signals of nationally important sports events by Prasar Bharati was contested by the BCCI. Under Section 3 of the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act, 2007 (hereinafter referred to as “the Sports Act”), the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is mandated to share the live broadcasting signals of nationally important sports events with Prasar Bharati, which shall be re-transmitted by Prasar Bharati’s terrestrial and DTH networks. BCCI contended that the re-telecast of such signals by the cable operators was due to the necessity imposed on them under Section 8 of the Act. BCCI challenged the legality of such an arrangement. 

The Apex Court held that under Section 3 of the Sports Act, the live signals received by Prasar Bharati from BCCI should be re-transmitter by Prasar Bharati only through its own terrestrial or DTH networks and not the cable operators.

  1. Shiv Cable TV System v. State of Rajasthan (1993)

In this case, the Collector-cum-District Magistrate of Sri Ganganagar order the stopping of several cable TV operators from transmitting TV programmes on the ground that they failed to obtain a valid licence required under the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885. The cable TV operators contented that the order violated their right to trade and business guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g) of the Indian Constitution

But the Rajasthan High Court held that the order did not violate Article 19(1)(g), as ‘cable television networks’ fall within the ambit of “wireless television apparatus” as defined under Section 2(2) of the Indian Wireless Telegraph Act 1933, and a license is required for possessing any “wireless television apparatus” under the same Act. So, it was after this case the Central Government realised the need for legislation to regulate cable TV networks.


The Cable Television Networks (Regulation Act of 1995 is a boon to the media and entertainment industry in India. Without the Act’s enactment, there would have been haphazard functioning of cable TV networks. Cable operators would have transmitted or re-transmitted any copyrighted work without the owners’ permission. There would have been no control over the kind of content being transmitted or re-transmitted by the cable operator. The Act is truly wholesome and efficient in regulating cable TV networks in India.

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