Even after three years of digitization, Consumer is still not in a deciding position and no market forces exist in India in broadcasting sector in the Digital domain. It is because monopolies of a few big players are still rampant. TRAI has made regulations to curb monopolies but its recommendations are not in force. TRAI must exercise its power to regulate ‘Pay’ channels in every way clearly differentiating between ‘Pay’ channels and FTA channels including their tariff, ad duration and distribution.
Let us take a look at the ground zero report on the benefits of digitization for consumer as compared to the projection by the Government after 3 years and 6 months of implementation.
Hike in Subscription price: Government asserts that there would be choice of large number of channels and services for the consumers to choose from, enabling him to budget his bill as per his choice and affordability. But in reality, these choices are only for the rich consumers. 70% population (Govt figures for food security) was watching their cable TV for under Rs 100/-. (All India ARPU for analogue cable as per TRAI is Rs. 165/-) Now they have to pay Rs 250-350 or more to get their choice that too in packages designed by MSO and not selected by consumer.
Not Getting Choice of Channels: As per Government, the consumer would pay only for what he wants to watch, but the real situation is that the hurried implementation and mandatory digitization has encouraged Cartelization of Industry in the hands of large MSOs and ‘Pay’ TV Broadcasters, creating more monopolies.
Consumer does not get his choice and is forced to pay for the bouquets of vertically integrated MSOs. These bouquets are filled with many unwanted channels.
Consumer gets stuck to the service of only one MSO in the area. They cannot avail the services of other MSOs due to cartelization and LCOs and Consumers both suffer due to these monopolies.
No interactive service provided: Government says that, the consumer would have a choice of interactive services like Video on Demand (VoD), Personal Video Recording (PVR), video gaming tele-shopping with additional features such as Electronic Program Guide (EPG) and broadband. But, the grim situation is that even after three years of digitization, nothing like this has happened except EPG that comes as part of the STB middleware.
Lack of Quality Service: As per Government, the consumer would derive value for his money with enhance quality of service through competition among operators/platforms. But, the real fact is that, the majority of the consumers are being made to pay much more than in analogue cable. These are all poor consumers who are paying two to three times the analogue tariff. The rich, who comprise only 15-20% of consumers, are the only beneficiaries of Digitisation. Poor Consumers have old TV sets, not capable of giving digital quality. Digitisation is a big burden on them as they are also forced to buy a set-top-box. Hardly 35% TV sets in India are flat screen with latest technology, mostly affordable by the rich and upper middle class.
Lack of consumer awareness programme: Government said, Ministry would organize consumer awareness programmes to inform them of their rights under the new law. But, till date no programmes have been made by the government. Government asked TV channels to run consumer awareness programmes but advertisements in TV channels are only threatening rather than persuasive. Most of the consumers don’t even know why the government is forcing them to pay more for a new technology when they were happy with the cheaper analogue technology that they could afford.
Because of Monopoly, competition has reduced. In the 38 cities and four Metros only about 120 MSOs are operating. Most of these are large National MSOs who are vertically integrated with Pay broadcasters.
Not getting a-La-Carte Channels: As per Government, all MSOs will give a-la-carte channels and a basic tier of 100 channels for Rs 100, picked by the consumer as per his choice. But, No MSO has given a-la-carte channels even in Phase I and II. If Star India is forcing a la-carte on MSOs, it is only to extract more money from them or rather discourage them from giving a –la-carte to consumers as package pricing has been done in that way.
Most of the MSOs who are supported by ‘Pay’ broadcasters put their own channels in the cheapest package which most of the subscribers will be forced to purchase to give a better viewership to their Pay channels. Consumer Choice is not a consideration here. Competing Pay channels have been put in costly packages or a-la-carte.
No itemized bill provided to consumers: Government emphasized that all cable operators will give itemized bills generated by their SMS and Billing systems as per the choice of content given by the consumer. In reality, no MSO till date is providing this. Consumers are being charged as in the analogue service. Till date TRAI is issuing directions to MSOs to do as per the regulations but no stake holder is complying with the rules.
Too many advertisements on Pay Channels: The Rule 7 (11) of Cable Television Network (Regulations) Rule 1994 prohibits more than 12 minutes of ads including 2 minutes of channels’ own promotion, keeping in mind the interest of the consumers. However, no channel ever adhered to the rule due to laxity of the I&B officials.
After the commencement of mandatory digitization, TRAI framed the Standards of Quality of Service Regulations and issued on 22nd March, 2013 with an aim to provide quality services to the consumers and to protect their interest, who pays a monthly subscription to the broadcasters. The primary reason for the regulator to bring this directive was due to the increasing violation of Cable Television Networks Rules 1994. Differential pricing of channels by MSOS: As per TRAI, MSOs must provide a Basic Service Tier of Rs 100 for at least 100 Free-to-air (FTA) channels. But, it is seen that different National MSOs have different rates for same Pay Channels and FTA channels. Even activation charges for STBs are different in different networks opening the services to a lot of misappropriation and cheating of consumers.
Surprisingly, TRAI has avoided regulating PAY channel prices and also allowed them to make money from advertisements for twelve minutes in an hour, keeping them at par with FTA channels, which is not justified and also not in the interest of consumers and FTA broadcasters who are more than 600 in India.
Issues related to Set-Top Box: The most important Hardware required for Digitisation and meant to be used with each TV set is a Set- Top-Box (STB) which is not manufactured in India. Most of the STBs are imported from China to keep costs low and compromise on quality.
Inspite of Cable TV Rule 2012 and TRAI QoS Regulation 17(5) of 12 of 2012 allowing consumers to buy compliant STBs in open market to consumers and asking all MSOs to provide information about technically compatible STBs to consumers so that they are not forced to buy STB from their MSO, no action taken by the government or the regulator to ensure this. Consumers are being forced to buy the cheapest possible STBs at high activation fee as decided by the MSO. BIS standard STB must be supplied by MSOs to the Consumers as given in the Regulations.
Ownership of Set-top-box should be with the consumer. Today consumers do not own them in spite of paying for them.
TRAI has prescribed a standard tariff package for offering of STB on rental basis. The details of the standard tariff package are given below in the table.
The consumer can choose any one of the option mentioned above in the table as per his requirement. The tariff includes installation and activation charges and maintenance charges for a period of 3 years. No monthly rental to be paid after 3 years. The STB becomes property of the subscriber after 3 years.
In addition to the above mentioned standard tariff package, it is compulsory that the MSO offers the STB on outright purchase, rental and hire-purchase basis.
MSOs are creating unnecessary service interruptions to the cable TV subscribers by deactivating their STB without prior information.
MSOs are downgrading consumer packages to Basic Service Tier (BST) without any prior intimation or information to subscribers or cable operators (LCO).They are switching off all pay channels without intimation. MSOs have no rights to completely blackout or deactivate the subscriber STBs without prior Notice even if it is for Non payment. As per DAS regulation issued by TRAI on 14MAY 2012, MSOs must issue 15 days Notice to Subscribers and Cable operators before deactivating STBs.
Apart from all these major issues, other issues that prohibit the consumers from receiving quality services by the broadcasters include:
- Broadcasters provide cheap IRDs to the cable headends resulting in poor quality signal, unfit for distribution on a large network. Ordinary IRDs output an analog signal which requires to be digitized again, resulting in generation loss. LCOs are unable to offer quality signals to consumers.
- The broadcaster switches off the channel subscribed in pre-paid option or shifts the channel to some other bouquet that is not subscribed by the MSO. This affects the viewers adversely.
CONSUMER COMPLAINT REDRESSAL
As per TRAI, Consumers must approach the MSO or its linked LCO in order to complaint against the poor service and the concerned authority must redress the grievances as per the norms set by the regulatory body.
The concerned authority must respond to the consumer complaints within 8 hours as given in the Quality of service Regulations for DAS. These Regulations with regard to time limits for complaint redressal are as follows:
a)All complaints shall be responded to within 8 hours of receipt of the complaint. However, complaints received during the night shall be attended by the next day.
b)No complaint shall remain unresolved beyond 3 days.
c)Complaints related to billing should be redressed within 7 days.
d)Complaints made to the nodal officer should be redressed in 10 days.
e)In case the complaints are not resolved, the MSO should mention the reason.
Consumer issues are the last priority of the government as even after two years of implementation, consumers are confused about what is happening. Excuse of Public interest to mandate a technology is eyewash. Consumers adopt a new technology automatically when it benefits them and Industry deploys a new technology when there is enough perceived or real demand and business is viable.