World Cup fans turn to live streams to avoid extra feeThe Nepal Telecommunications Authority has said it cannot block live streaming without getting the green light from the government.
Football fans who don't want to pay extra to watch the FIFA World Cup on their cable television have been watching free live streams of the matches on the internet, prompting complaints from the broadcasting rights holder for Nepal.
Media Hub, which has obtained exclusive rights to broadcast the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, has moved to get local internet service providers to block live streams, and lobby groups have responded that it is illegal to block online content without sanction.
The media service provider has been engaged in an argument with activists who proclaim their right to watch free online content.
Tara Nath Dahal, executive chairman of Freedom Forum Nepal, a non-governmental organisation working for the protection and promotion of human rights, tweeted on Friday questioning the internet service providers’ action to restrict FIFA World Cup content on the internet as if it is their prerogative.
“If content on the internet is filtered like this, it shows glaringly what the internet freedom situation is like in Nepal.”
The Nepal Telecommunications Authority has said it cannot block live streaming without getting the green light from the government.
“We have obtained both digital and broadcasting rights, and we have the right to protect their misuse as we have paid for them,” said Som Prasad Dhital, executive director of Media Hub. “Our right should be secured by the government too.”
Media Hub obtained broadcasting rights from FIFA through Viacom18 Media, an Indian media and entertainment company, by paying Rs400 million.
“As we obtained the full rights, live streaming of the games is illegal,” said Dhital, who is also president of the Advertising Association of Nepal.
Some fans have been viewing the World Cup on the internet using a virtual private network (VPN) which is easily available on some platforms.
According to reports, FIFA World Cup live matches are only available on for-pay TV channels or streaming services in most territories. In these regions, the average cost of streaming each World Cup match is $60.
Nepalis can watch the matches on television by paying an extra Rs565 including tax per set-top box for the duration of the tournament.
Reports say there are legitimate broadcasters in around eight countries where the matches are shown on free-to-air online streaming websites. These sites geo-block the games if your IP address is from another country.
Some fans have been live streaming World Cup matches for free, from anywhere, using a VPN, which can conceal the users’ physical location and IP address.
In Nepal, for example, many live streaming sites like 9goal, score808 and crichd have popped up allowing users to watch the championships without paying.
“Broadcasting the matches through any site is against Media Hub's agreement with FIFA and Viacom 18,” Dhital said.
But advocates decry attempts to filter content on the internet as being illegal.
“Unless the government bans a particular site, private companies do not have the right to filter or restrict the content that is available on the internet,” said Santosh Sigdel, founder chairman of Digital Rights Nepal, an advocacy group which works to strengthen civic space and digital rights.
“There is a regulator to decide what content should be available on the internet,” he added.
Purushottam Khanal, chairman of the Nepal Telecommunications Authority, said broadcasting right holder Media Hub had written to the regulator requesting it not to show the matches from other sites through internet service providers.
“Media Hub has raised a question, and we have informed internet service providers about the same,” Khanal said. “We have not directed any internet service provider to block such sites,” he said. “Even we do not have the right to filter online content.”
Some internet service providers, who provide internet protocol television (IPTV) service, have shut down many sites that were streaming the football matches for free, according to Sigdel. “This is control over the content.”
Internet service providers say they have blocked many sites that are not registered or listed in Nepal.
"Facebook and Twitter both have not been registered in Nepal," Sigdel said.
"The internet is an open-access platform, and one does not have to get a licence to put content on it. Also, it is not necessary to get registered or listed; but if the content goes against the law, the government needs to regulate it."
The rush of television viewers paying extra for the FIFA World Cup overwhelmed servers for hours on November 20, with many customers venting their ire at digital payment systems like Esewa and Khalti for delaying their transactions.
According to Media Hub, around 300,000 customers had subscribed to the FIFA World Cup as of Sunday, which is being broadcast on the channel Himalaya Premium TV.
This story has been updated.