Friday, 11 July 2014

Consumer Woes don’t end, post Digitisation

India is home of roughly 157 million cable TV households today, up fr0m 400,000 in January 1992 and 94 million in 2011. “Cable TV” is so popular in the country that it is one of the only devices known to have penetrated pretty much every income group. This was possible only because in the first fifteen years there was no regulation existed. Cable TV Act that came in 1994 was limited in its use as broadcasters were out of the ambit of the Act.
In December 2011, the Lok Sabha passed a Bill and made digitisation of cable television mandatory in India, starting with the top metros on or before June 30, 2012 and pan-India by 2014. Households in the four metros - Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata were the first who ceased to receive analogue television broadcast signals. This is the first major structural and technology reform in Cable TV industry since its advent in the early 1990s. 
After the law was cleared by the Parliament, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was given the task of framing various regulations for its smooth implementation. The TRAI in its recommendation to Information and Broadcasting said this transition is highly beneficial to the customers as it will offer quality, choice and many value added services. The process of digitalisation will benefit all players in the distribution chain. End customers will enjoy greater choice, at low prices.
Various benefits to consumers as highlighted by TRAI while framing the regulations are:-
  • Better signal quality.
  • More choice of channels/services.
  • Pays for what he gets and so can budget his bill.
  • Have access to triple play services including broadband and innovative value added and   interactive services.
  • Additional features such as EPG enhance the viewing experience. 
Benefits to Cable Operators are
  • Enables business decisions based on transparent and verifiable parameters.
  • Can market pay channels based on demographics and socio-economic conditions in their markets.
  • Can generate additional revenue streams through broadband, value added and interactive services like VoD, PVR, video gaming etc.
But have the benefits of Digitalisation accrued to the Consumers? Has any survey been conducted to assess the implementation benefits? The answer is NO. We didn’t find any kind of survey been done for this. In this backdrop Cable Quest took initiative and conducts a survey across all the parts of Delhi with sample survey of 500 people. We put our questions in the form of-signal quality, choice of channels, pay for what one gets, and accesses of value added services.
Better Signal quality : This was our first question to consumers that whether they are getting better signal quality in Digitalisation. 70 per cent of people could not differentiate the quality between analogue and digital signal. Even they said that whenever weather get disturbed it is cable TV signal which get disturbed first. If the power cut, it impact cable TV signal. Signal of cable depend on various parameters if any parameters get disturbed, the smooth functioning of cable TV get disturbed, one of the consumer told us. 
Change in tariff plan within six months of activation of the tariff plan: As per the TRAI regulation namely the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services (fourth) (Addressable Systems) Tariff Order, 2010, neither LCOs/ MSOs or broadcasters can change tariff plan within six months of activation of the tariff plan. But this regulation was no working at the grass root level, one subscriber fr0m Jahangir Puri area having connection fr0m a national MSO Network told us that his LCO just after two month of installation has increased price of cable service by Rs 40, without giving prior notice. 
Better picture and sound quality : Digitalisation was implemented to provide better picture and sound quality, provide enhanced services of high definition and video on demand content facility to viewers. But are consumers enjoying these services? We found that most of the viewers have not heard of these services.  Only the upward mobile community understood these terms. This section is just 15% of all subscribers. Also, in the slums and weaker section of society consumers complained that their old television sets do not even receive the digital signals and to see the picture, they have to buy a small box costing Rs 350 to convert AV signals to RF to connect to the TV. These consumers have no use of Dolby sound or HD picture and they are the real masses in India. 
Choice of channels : In the DAS law Consumer has right to select channels of his choice fr0m the array of channels available and pay only for those channels rather than having to pick packages with fixed prices. A consumer can even pick any 100 FTA channels fr0m a list of about 600 registered in India to make his Basic Service Tier. But in our survey we found that consumers are not getting channels according to their choice, they said that their LCOs had fixed the price between Rs 225 to 300 (varied fr0m area to area) and gave fixed number of channels. Many of them are not aware about what minimum number of free-to air (FTA) channels the can get in Rs 100 as per the regulation the TRAI has framed.
Consumer Application Form : According to the DAS regulation it is mandatory for Consumers to fill up the CAF (Customer Acquisition Form) giving their choice of content at the time of taking a digital TV connection. But most of them (especially who live in JJ colonies) denied that they had ever asked to fill up any CAF form. This means it is the LCOs or MSO employees who filled up these forms and all OK report was given to TRAI.  
Now the question is if the consumer has not benefitted fr0m digitalisation, LCO who works at grass root level has not got any benefit then who has been benefitted? Answer is- big MSOs, DTH Operators and Pay Broadcasters. Even here it is only the large vertically integrated MSOs of Broadcast Groups who are making the maximum moolah.  
Multi System Operators 
The digitisation of cable TV services leads to higher subscription revenues for multi-system operators. Firstly they make wholesale deals with ‘Pay’ Broadcasters at much lower rates than small MSOs and sell the content in packages at inflated prices, and secondly they collect heavy carriage fee fr0m broadcasters, in particular the FTA broadcasters who do not get the right placement on cable networks.  If they show a decline in carriage fee, it is only in respect of their own group channels fr0m whom they get preferential pricing deals for distribution.
DTH Operators get benefitted
As per the TRAI report published on 28th April 2014, besides the free DTH service of Doordarshan, there are 6 private DTH licensees, offering their services to the DTH subscribers. As on 31.12.2013, total registered subscribers were 62.97 million and active subscribers were 35.81 million as reported by these 6 operators. Indian satellite broadcaster, Videocon d2h, reported more than 10 million subscribers at the end of 2013. Anil Khera CEO Videocon D2H said that, Videocon d2h benefitted hugely fr0m the recent cable digitisation conversion programme in the country – with 25-30% of cable viewers switching to DTH during Phase I, and 30-35% in the more widespread Phase II process.
Khera said that about 26-27% of cable users that switched to DTH had signed with the Videocon’s d2h service and he expected more to arrive in Phase III and Phase IV of India’s cable digitisation programme.
Standard & Quality in Digitalisation
To ensure the quality of service and protect the interests of the consumers, TRAI has notified the regulation “Standard of Quality of Service (Digital Addressable Cable TV System) Regulation 2012”. Through this regulation consumer has rights to: 
1. Seek details of the schemes, terms and conditions of subscriptions and Set Top Box.
2. Subscribe for channels on a-la-carte basis.
3. Will get Receipt of the payment made to cable operator.
4. Details of bill under pre-paid subscription
5. Can suspend the services for a period of 1 month to 3 months giving 15 days notice in advance during which no subscription charges are payable other than rental charges for STB (if taken on rental basis).
6. If the services to a subscriber has been disconnected by the cable operator, no charges for the period for which the services remain discontinued including  for the charges  for STB  shall be payable  by the subscriber.
7. The consumer can change subscription fr0m pre-paid to post-paid without any extra charge.
8. In case installation  and activation of STB  is delayed beyond two working days  after completion  of all formalities  by the  subscriber, a rebate of Rs. 15/- per day  for  first five  days of delay and Rs. 10/- per day  for delay beyond  5 days  shall be offered  to subscriber.
Digitisation was brought to benefit all stakeholders include – content owners and producers (broadcasters), content distributors (MSOs and cable operators) and consumers. As per our survey we can’t say the same, even we can says that “Digitisation in its true sense hasn’t been carried out”. Consumer doesn’t get any benefit through digitalisation, although huge money has been collected fr0m each one of them in the name of STBs. Not only this, the STB does not belong to them and no MSO is adhering to TRAI regulation on STB hiring.

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