Friday, 1 November 2013

Where is the Consumer Interest?

When the Digital Addressable Bill was being discussed in the Parliament in November 2011, Ms Ambika Soni, then I&B Minister was again and again assuring the Parliamentarians that it was being done in consumer interest and that they would get their choice content at affordable price with the government benefitting from additional taxes. Exactly after two years we find that none of it has become a reality. Were the parliament and the people cheated to benefit a few stake holders? 
Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Act 2011, the Notification dated 11 November 2011, Rules framed under Notification dated 28 Feb 2012 and also regulations framed consequently by TRAI to implement mandatory digitization have adversely effected millions of subscribers making them pay more than double, giving no benefits of triple play, broadband, VoD etc. as promised.
The Act was brought in the interest of Consumers but mandatory digitalization has proved detrimental to consumer interest and also jeopardized the livelihood of more than sixty thousand cable operators and their families. It is also creating unemployment for Lakhs of people engaged in small scale manufacturing and support services for the industry.
 Instead of facilitating consumers what we have achieved is-
Encouraged Vertical Monopolies : The gainers are 4 to 5 large corporate media giants (like StarTV- Rupert Murdoch, Zee TV- Subhash Chandra, SUN TV- Dayanidhi/ Kalanidhi Maran already under scams) who own vertically and horizontally integrated Broadcast companies, their allied MSOs (Multisystem Operators) and DTH operations and have increased their monopolistic hold on the Indian Media.
Poor Quality STBs Forced on Consumers :  Digitalisation cannot happen without STBs (Set Top Box). This STB is not manufactured in India. It is being imported from China and other countries in a hurry to meet the deadline of Phase I and II favouring a few large Broadcasters, allied MSOs and DTH players and resulting in millions of dollars going out of the country, adversely impacting the economy of the Nation. 
 These imported low cost STBs have old Technology (MPEG 2), no BIS Standards, No BEE Rating, No Interoperability, No quality certification, no electrical protection, use cheap SMPS components that pose dangerous Risk to General Public who is unaware of these facts. These STBs are Digital devices never designed to handle high and variable voltage supply available in India. There is no Guarantee/ Warranty card, repair center for these STBs etc. 
Consumers do not own these STBs even after paying to LCO/MSO. STB also increases Electricity Bill. Picture quality is also poor due to pixelisatioin and picture freezing.
Security risk in Using Imported STBs : Bugging of STBs and ability to receive undesired signals may cause a serious security hazard.
Consumers to Pay More with no Choice of channels : Consumers are still being forced with channels in Bouquets, not given a-la-carte channels. Pay channels are full of lengthy irritating Advertisements & Paid news and do not comply with 10+2 minute ad cap laid down in Cable TV Rules. The low income group consumer who was paying Rs 50 to Rs 100 every month in Analog Regime has to now pay more than Rs 300 for his choice content.
“Fundamental Rights” of cable operators  to earn livelihood have been snatched away
Cable operators who are declared as SSS & BE (Small Scale Service and Business Enterprise) and registered in Post offices, have been made slaves to large MSOs who control their business and decide their Revenue Share as per the new regulations.
Cable Operators give 24x7 services to consumers, spend money on building and upgrading Networks and collect & pay taxes to state governments. their Revenue Share has been drastically reduced. They are unable to survive with 45% of Rs 100 of BST making their business unviable. Cable Operators (LCO) are having 500 to 1000 subscribers base and are self employed earning their livelihood for more than 20 years from this business.
Indian Manufacturers not Benefitted: Government should promote Indigenous industry to manufacture STB and related equipment, save FOREIGN EXCHANGE and generate business and employment. This was the ideal time to give a kick start to STB industry in India but we have lost the opportunity because of poor planning on the part of the government. This would have also boosted our exports.
On 15th of October a delegation of cable operators met Chairman of Lok Sabha Standing Committee on IT, Rao  Inderjit Singh, MP and submitted a memorandum with a request to review amendments to Cable Act to protect the interest of consumers and avoid generation of unemployment in the Cable TV industry. They also requested the Committee to let analogue cable transmissions continue in the rural and semi-urban areas for the poor subscribers.


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