Various issues related to the cable and satellite television industry were tackled at the day-long seminar titled ‘The Campaign for Justice to Tele-viewers’, held in Mumbai on May 20, 2006. The seminar witnessed the coming together of citizens groups, consumer groups, area resident associations and ALMs of Mumbai, who sought the arrest of the confusion in the policy for broadcast and transmission of TV signals.
Present on the occasion were representatives of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Rakesh Kacker), STAR India (Tony D’Silva), multi-system operators (K Jayaraman of Hathway; S. Majumdar of IncableNet), cable operators (Roop Sharma of the Cable Operators Federation of India), new technology providers (Sujata Dev of Times Broadband-MTNL IPTV project and Ram Hingorani of Reliance IPTV), and consumer activists from Mumbai, Pune and Nashik.
The convener, Achintya Mukherjee of the Bombay Telephone Users’ Association, said, “Due to the confusion, consumers have been harassed by service providers with their arbitrary demands and poor quality of services.”
Speaking on the occasion Dr Arvind Shenoy, Chairman of the Consumer Guidance Society of India, said, “Two years back, in 2004, the TRAI sponsored a seminar on cable and satellite television and we helped organise the entire event. However, TRAI hasn’t taken any initiative in the last few months and we have taken the initiative of organising the seminar. The consumer activists have finalised the following recommendations (on competition, pricing, advertisements, quality of service issues and other issues) during the seminar and the same will be sent to the Central and state governments as well as TRAI.”
The following were the demands:
Competition: Full competition of service providers between the different platforms of delivery of signals to the consumers (DTH, IPTV, cable TV, etc.) and competition between service providers within the same platform is a must in policy. The right to choose individual channels in any form of delivery of signals is also a pre-requisite. All measures should be available to present the formation of cartels.
Pricing: The consumer should be liable for payment of the cost of carriage charges only
This cost calculation must be worked out in a transparent manner Any restrictions on competition (limited or otherwise) must imply that pricing should be regulated.
Advertisements: No advertisements should be permitted on pay channels. Maximum time for advertisements in Free-to-Air channels permitted should be 15 minutes per hour of broadcast. Only 10 per cent of TV screen space should be utilised for advertisement bands, including logos.
Quality of service: Detailed information not provided to consumers at the time of installation / activation of service or even annually as recommended by TRAI. The telecom regulator has not set up any mechanism to monitor procedure and benchmarks laid down by them for billing, redressal of complaints and other quality of service issues.
Other issues: All channels received by the TV must be separate and different. Repeatability of channels; reducing the total number of channels that can be viewed by the consumer must be prohibited. There must be a ceiling on the number of times a programme is repeated in a month on the same channel.
Defending the government’s position on conditional access system (CAS), TRAI’s Rakesh Kacker asserted that the government was not adopting delaying tactics in the case, but was merely waiting for the High Court to give its ruling. “In India, there are three entities protecting the rights of the consumers – the government, TRAI and the TDSAT. In October 2004, we have incorporated most of the recommendations made by the consumer groups and submitted them to be added as amendments in the TRAI Act for cable and satellite television,” Kacker maintained.
Meanwhile, Roop Sharma, President of the Cable Operators Federation of India, felt that consumers needed to blame the broadcaster-MSO nexus rather than the last mile operators for their various woes. If the last mile operators, who were victimised by the broadcaster-MSO nexus, didn’t under-declare the number of cable connections, then the consumers would have to pay Rs 700 per TV in each household (instead of the current Rs 300-400 per household at present).
“The broadcasters promote their programmes at every given opportunity, even though they never pay taxes on them unlike in the case of the other commercial advertisements. But they never advertise their channel rates in electronic or print media. Why so?” she asked.
Sharma alleged that broadcasters had played a cruel game with the consumers and charged exorbitantly for the new bouquets created after December 2003. This was in violation of the TRAI ruling that the new bouquets/channels should be sold through set-top boxes.