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TRAI’s new tariff order lets down cable TV viewers

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the regulatory body for the Broadcasting and Cable services in India is still trying to convince the people that the New Tariff Order under the Digital Addressable System (DAS) is going to bring down the burden of the monthly cable bill of the consumer, despite the fact that the ground reality proved that the bill is doubled. TRAI has undertaken a three-pronged strategy: Suppression of facts, misleading the people and ‘to rob Peter to pay Paul’.
The Government of India has assured the people with a large number of benefits with the implementation of the Digital Addressable Cable System in India. During the discussion in the Parliament, the then Information and Broadcasting Minister, Smt. Ambika Soni stated “Digitalization will carry with it a large number of benefits for every stakeholder. The most important benefit flows to the common man, who is the most important stakeholder of course”. As the implementation of the digitization reached its final stage it proved to be entirely different.
Lies, damn lies and TRAI’s campaign
TRAI still tries to confuse people with its misleading campaign. It says the Consumer will get 100 FTA channels with Rs.130 (with taxes Rs.153.40) and that the consumer is free to choose FTAs and Pay channels of any genre and that it is giving highest priority for the consumer choice. But the underlying facts are entirely different. The 26 DD channels to be carried by the DPOs are under must carry rules. TRAI has successfully kept it under ‘must take channels’, limiting the choice of the consumer to 74 channels under Network Capacity Fees. This is nothing but suppression of the fact.
Similarly, TRAI says the 100 channels to be provided by the DPO/LCO should include not only FTA channels but also pay channels of different genres like General Entertainment Channels (GECs), Music, Movies, Kids, sports etc.,. This is again a misleading campaign. People are thinking that the first 100 channels, including pay channels are free and that their bill will be restricted to Rs.153.40 as long as the number of channels selected is less than 100. A section of the media also got carried away and started misguiding the people.
In fact, the network capacity is fee of Rs 153.40 (including taxes) is only for carriage of the channels to the customer premises. Even among these 100, each HD channel selected will be treated as 2 SD channels and the total should be 100 SD channels. In excess of 100 SD channel limit, one has to pay Rs.20 (plus taxes) for every 25 channels. Now comes the issue of paying for the pay channels. The pay channels selected under NCF are now available in your Set Top Box (STB). To watch them, you need to subscribe them either on a la carte basis or on bouquet basis, the prices of which can be seen in your Electronic Program Guide (EPG). This is purely your choice and as such the bill depends on your choice.
Suppression of Facts
TRAI has proved itself that it is good at suppressing the facts. It has not informed the common man that the DPOs are allowed to revise the Network Capacity Fee which is now limited to Rs.130. There is no guarantee that they would not enhance this after six months. Once they are allowed, it is very natural and we have seen this when broadcasters were allowed to price a maximum of Rs.19 for pay channels. Are we prepared to endorse that TRAI is too innocent to believe that a tiger turns vegetarian?
Another suppression of fact is the “must take channels”. TRAI repeatedly says the consumer is free to select 100 channels and it also lays down a condition that 26 DD channels are mandatory. When they are mandatory, why does it choose to say 100 instead of 74? It is nothing but a strategy of being over smart and fooling the people.
While promoting digitization, TRAI said that it is see that people get at least 500 channels so that they will have choice to select channels of their choice. But it has conveniently ignored its promise given to the consumer. TRAI failed to impose a condition that the DPO should have a minimum channel carrying capacity of 500,
Robbing Peter to pay Paul
Reality is that the Trickle Down Theory worked well in Digitization too. The Govt. is earning more than Rs,10,000 crore per annum without spending anything and became the huge beneficiary. The second in line is the Broadcaster who is ready to monetize the weakness of the people for television and enhanced the pay channel prices by 4 times to squeeze as much money as possible from them.
The Distribution Platform Operators (DPOs) who are the wholesale dealers in selling these channels are now ready to take lion’s share in the Network Capacity Fees (basic service fee), Discount offered by the broadcasters for distribution, full amount of Carriage fee and Placement Fee, amount charged to cable channels as well as the revenue from their own local channels. Local Cable Operators (LCOs), the real foot soldiers are left with a minor share of Network Capacity Fees and Broadcaster’s Commission. Below all these layers lie the consumer who bears the burden of the earnings of all these 4 stakeholders, the Govt, the broadcaster, the DPO and the LCO.
Half the Tariff Order: A joke on the consumer
The TRAI has failed to implement its Tariff Order in full. It has ignored the fact that the other part is in favor of the consumer. As a result, whatever is implemented is in favor of the broadcaster and the DPOs and whatever is ignored is in favor of the consumer. Now the consumer is burdened heavily with the unsympathetic, insensitive and callous attitude of TRAI.
While the New Tariff Order allowed the broadcaster to price pay channels not exceeding Rs. 19, the other provision says the discount offered on a bouquet should not exceed 15% of the total price of the individual channels in the bouquet. In fact, this will help bring down the prices of the a la carte channel prices. When Madras High Court struck down this clause, TRAI didn’t prefer approaching the Supreme Court. TRAI proved its non-seriousness in such an issue that will seriously impact the cable bills of the consumers. The Supreme Court had to point out the delay when TRAI knocked the doors in a hurry.
An important observation made by the Supreme Court, apart from its comments on the delay, is that the TRAI’s jurisdiction on price capping was already upheld by Madras High Court as well as the Supreme Court. This is nothing but an indication that TRAI can exercise its authority to control the prices in various other ways. Yet, TRAI has decided to be a mute spectator and leave it to the market forces. Television Broadcasting is neither a market where demand and supply works nor a place where substitutes are available. Each program/channel in itself is different and cannot be substituted. Only regulation can control and not the market forces.
Consumer, the least priority
TRAI got carried away by the broadcasters and Corporate DPOs. They have not allowed the consumers in the Task Force set up to review the progress of implementation of Digitization. TRAI has failed to study the ground realities on its own and as such depended entirely on what the broadcasters and the DPOs conveyed.
It has also ignored the importance of educating the consumer. Initially trade organizations such as FICCI, CII have promised to conduct awareness programs but kept mum. The broadcasters and even the DPOs had to take up a threatening campaign in the name of awareness and warned the viewers that their TV screen will be blank if they do not buy a Set Top Box. Even the campaign about the New Tariff Order is also carried on the same lines. TRAI goes on saying that the consumer will get 100 channels including FTA and Pay channels for Rs.130 plus Taxes, keeping mum on the DD channels and the additional subscription money for pay channels. Broadcasters campaign for their bouquets without mentioning the huge prices they fixed for their individual channels.
Finally the consumer is burdened heavily. The benefits are flown in the descending order from Govt. to Broadcaster to DPO to LCO. It is a fact that the quantum of benefit varies among these four beneficiaries and the LCO is benefited the least. However, the total benefit is derived by burdening the consumer only. In the name of digitization, common man is burdened. TRAI Chairman, sitting pretty in his chambers in New Delhi, is still giving interviews to the media saying that the digitization has helped the consumer a lot with transparency, choice, reduced bill and all nonsense around these oft repeated words. Are there any takers?
TRAI has failed to make an on-the-spot study till today to know the situation on the ground. On the other hand, it is misguiding the people on 100 channels. With the heartless, careless pitiless and callous attitude of TRAI, the life of LCOs has become miserable. They are facing an uphill task in convincing the subscribers. The subscribers, on the other hand are n a dilemma whether to believe TRAI or the LCO. A section of the media is also adding fuel to fire with its unverified and misleading reporting.

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