Tariff Order: TRAI unveils brahmastra to bring cable, DTH cos into line

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Flooded by complaints about cable and DTH players not allowing consumers to change their channel packs and subscriptions, India’s media regulator has come up with a proposal to allow consumers to change their channels and packs using the TRAI website.

This will be achieved through a single app — similar to TRAI’s existing ‘channel selector’ — through which consumers will be able to change, add or drop packages and channels.

Currently, consumers have to log on to the self-care portals of cable and DTH companies to do the same. However, this is not an easy process. Most cable and DTH companies have not given consumers the full freedom to select and modify their channels and packs as required under TRAI’s New Tariff Order of 2017.

As a result, many consumers are simply forced to use the packages designed by cable and DTH companies. This is partly because many cable and DTH companies make money by including certain channels in these packages and excluding others.

Once the single app system is introduced, cable and DTH companies will no longer be able to force their consumers to subscribe to their packs, or extract money from channel owners for ‘pushing’ their channels.

COMMON LANGUAGE

The new system will be implemented by laying down a uniform coding standard.

Once the standard is laid down, all MSOs and DTH companies will have to make sure that their core software understands this new standard and will obey the commands sent by TRAI’s new app.

The commands will instruct the cable and DTH operators’ software to drop or add new packs and channels.

TRAI will be able to immediately detect if a cable or DTH operator fails to implement the new system, and will not have to wait for consumers to complain. The regulator will then take punitive action, and can even recommend for their MSO or DTH license to be cancelled.

TRAI has already created a similar app, called Channel Selector, which can be accessed on the regulator’s website. However, the app can only be used to calculate monthly costs at present, and not for modifying one’s packs and channels. This is because the app does not ‘talk’ to the servers of the cable and DTH companies.

To make the app ‘talk’ to the computers at DTH and cable company offices, these computers have to understand the language that the app is speaking. This will be achieved by laying down a common set of commands — such as ‘add channel Sony Pix’, ‘deactivate Star Value Pack Malayalam’ and so on.

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TRAI said it has already published a document laying down such standards, also known as an application programming interface or API.

“TRAI’s new regulations/orders for the television and broadcasting sector gave freedom to consumers to select television channels they want to watch. To ensure proper implementation of the new framework, TRAIhas made number of efforts such as series of meetings with DPOs, publicity in electronic and news media, interactions with customer groups etc. Despite of making all efforts, time and again, it is being brought to notice of the Authority that consumers are not able to make real choice of TV channels,” the regulator said, asking the public for any comments and suggestions before it moves ahead with laying down the standards.

It said it has received several complaints from the consumers that they are not able to choose the TV channels conveniently on the web portal/ apps of the DPOs (distribution platform operators).

“All the complaints received in TRAI were not only analysed in TRAI but also forwarded to DPOs to take necessary action and facilitate consumer choice. TRAI as special initiative conducted field inspection for some DPOs to access the process of selection of channels made available to consumers. It was noticed that quite a few DPOs platform were not providing adequate freedom and choice to consumers. Customers also complained that the call centre of DPOs are also not helping to facilitate consumer choice ofthe channels.

“In order to address above issue, The Authority, in the larger public interest, felt need to have Channel Selection System developed by third party to facilitate easy channel selection by consumers. Since, third party APP will be accessible by every customer of Broadcasting & Cables Services sector, therefore, it will facilitate the easy choice to consumers. To facilitate functioning of third-party Apps, TRAI created Channel Selection System API Specifications document which prescribed common APIs with all Distribution Platform Operators (DPO). TRAI intends to mandate all the DPOs to compulsorily share information with the apps after authenticating the subscriber so that such apps can help in easy selection of the required TV channels,” it added.

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