With the new government in place we should expect drastic changes in the way I&B Ministry is functioning, including its fast forward drive to digitalise cable TV Networks. Indications are that the present Government has a different approach to many issue in the media. Its overall approach is consistent with BJP manifesto before the elections where more emphasis was given to the welfare of the masses rather than please the corporate.
Operators meet Sh Prakash Javadekar, the new I&B Minister
On 30th May leaders of Cable Operators Associations met the new I&B Minister, Prakash Javadekar and discussed various issues concerning the present state of the industry and mandatory digitisation. The issues discussed included manufacture of STBs in the country, consumer tariffs going sky high, new regulations infringing the fundamental rights of cable operators, variable tax structure, and monopoly of pay broadcasters and their vertical integrated distribution companies.
Sh Javadekar revealed that the Government is more concerned about the indigenous manufacture of STBs, considering that 11.5 crores of STBs are required to be seeded in Phase-III and IV market. That may cost the nation $3 billion in foreign exchange which is not desirable to keep the economy stable. Other issues Mr Javadekar showed concern about are employment in the industry, advertisements in the pay channels and most important, availability of Doordarshan channels in all cable TV networks, with full visibility. In fact going by the report we received from the leaders of cable industry who met Mr Javadekar, he was quite surprised that in the digital regime even Doordarshan Channels are being encrypted and available to consumers only as pay channels. It is also believed that even Mr Arun Jaitley, Minister for Finance and Corporate has shown his concern for not involving indigenous manufacturers in the gigantic task of the Cable TV digitization. Considering all the above we may soon have some changes in the regulations, to support the local manufacturers and small stakeholders in the industry. Also the deadline for Phase III & IV may be postponed till adequate local manufacturing is available.
TRAI Direction to MSOs
Once again TRAI has given a direction to MSOs in DAS areas, asking them to start giving bills generated through SMS System to the consumers. It is really shocking that even after 2 years of closing the Phase-I the MSOs have not yet operationalised their SMS systems, providing choice of content to consumers and let them pay for what they watch. The regulator has directed cable operators to send bills to subscribers, while providing facilities for online payment and acknowledgment following reports of unsatisfactory compliance of its directives. "During the inspection of some of the MSOs (multi-system operators), the authority noted that the compliance to the provisions of the regulations and directions related to the provisions of the bills and receipts to the subscribers is not satisfactory," Trai said.
In its order, Trai said it has asked the MSOs to "ensure delivery of individual subscriber bills, provide option of online bill payment and electronic acknowledgment to the subscriber for the payment in made, in areas where DAS has been implemented".
The regulator said the MSOs must provide online payment options to subscribers within 45 days of issue of its order, dated May 27, 2014. Also the order said MSOs must "ensure within 30 days of issue of this direction, that an electronic acknowledgment system is sent to the subscriber on his registered mobile number or the email address, immediately on his making any payment to the service provider".
The Trai order also said in case of collection of bills manually from subscribers, payment details must be sent by the collector via mobile to subscriber management system in front of the consumer. "The subscriber management system on receipt of this information shall send an automatic acknowledgment of the payment received to the subscriber either on his registered mobile phone number or his email address," TRAI said.
In December last year, it had directed MSOs to offer both pre-paid and post-paid payment options and generate itemized monthly usage details for customers in DAS areas within 15 days of the end of the month. However, surprisingly, TRAI has not taken any serious action against any MSO for not complying to its regulations for so many months.
More Court Cases being filed against Regulations
Right from the beginning of Digitisation process, number of court cases have increased against the government, regulator and even amongst the stake holders indicating that there is some thing seriously wrong with the regulations or the implementation.
Centre for Transforming India, a consumer organization of Delhi and Home Cable Network Pvt. Ltd., an independent MSO of Delhi have taken TRAI to TDSAT in separate cases challenging the 27.5% hike in cable TV tariff for ‘pay channels’ as given in Tariff (Eleventh Amendment) Order, 2014 (3 of 2014) dated 31 March 2014. 15% increase is effected with effect from 01April 2014 and another 12.5 % from 01 January 2015. The increase in tariff is bound to affect the entire broadcasting sector and the cascading effect will go right down to the individual TV viewers, where it may be felt the most stated the petitions.
Court, on 29 May 2014 passed an order that did not stay the Tariff Order but directed that all stake-holders must keep a separate account in regard to the collections on the basis of the impugned order. The Court also made clear that in case the Appeals succeed, the individual subscribers making any excess payment in terms of the impugned order will be entitled to adjustments for the succeeding month from the respective LCOs/MSOs. Similarly, the LCOs will be entitled to adjustments from the MSOs and the LCOs and the MSOs from the broadcasters. The next hearing is scheduled on 4 August 2014.
In another case TV Today has appealed in High Court against TRAI regulation on Aggregators. Without issuing any order, the HC has posted the matter for hearing on 7 July. The regulation is set to come into effect in August. In its argument, TV Today has maintained that the definition of a broadcaster in the amended tariff order is not consistent with the one in the Cable Television Networks Act 1995 and Changing the definition of a broadcaster is beyond the purview of TRAI.
It has also contended that competition-related issues are the sole domain of the Competition Commission of India (CCI) and TRAI has no authority over this. News broadcasters fear that they will have to start coughing more carriage fee as the aggregators cannot bundle channels. Court Rules in favour of mobile consumers, asks TRAI to change Rules In what could have far-reaching consequences for telecom companies and mobile users, a consumer forum has directed Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to change its rules for service providers to curb exploitation of consumers who are charged for value added services without their consent.
Issuing a number of directions to TRAI, New Delhi consumer disputes redressal forum has also directed Idea Cellular limited to deposit Rs 10 lakh as punitive damages to the Prime Minister fund for ignoring the "interest of consumers and the existence of consumer court for no good reasons". For this, the consumer forum president C K Chaturvedi directed Idea to pay the man Rs 50,000 as compensation.