With the telecom and media regulator asking for daily reports from DTH and cable players on migration of consumers to TRAI-compliant plans ahead of the Jan 31 deadline, many consumers have complained of being moved to unwanted packs by their providers.
Under TRAI Tariff Order 2017, all cable and DTH subscribers have to be moved to new plans and packs compliant with a set of new prices announced over the last few weeks.
To ensure a smooth transition, the regulator asked platforms to file daily reports about how many consumers have been moved to plans compliant with the new tariff scheme.
Under the new scheme, consumers get to pick and choose their channels, instead of having to go with the ‘base packs’ offered by cable and DTH operators.
However, many consumers are complaining that their DTH or cable operator is not allowing them this facility. Instead, they say, they are simply being offered a choice of 4 or 5 pre-built ‘base packs’ and asked to choose.
In some cases, subscribers are simply being moved to a TRAI-compliant pack and not even given the choice of 4 or 5 packs.
“My DTH provider is forcing me to select a base pack for FTA [free to air] with 100 channels, which they say cannot be modified or deleted, and quotes that it is a TRAI mandate to have those 100 channels and they cannot change it,” complained a consumer of a prominent DTH provider in India.
The complaints are based on the feeling that many of the channels in the ‘starter packs’ are ‘junk’ or unwanted.
In our interactions with the industry, the providers pointed out that it was not possible to get the list of all 72 channels individually in case of each consumer and activate them one by one before January 31.
As such, explained a DTH official, consumers are being put in one of the pre-designed starter packs.
He denied the accusation that consumers are not being allowed to delete channels from the starter pack.
“It’s just a temporary problem. They will be given the choice of deleting or adding channels soon,” the official added.
The problem is learnt to be related to huge number of subscribers that DTH and cable companies have.
With millions of consumers and only a few hundred customer care officials, it becomes impossible to call each one and get their full list of preferred channels.
Similarly, waiting for consumers to log into their self-service portals or apps to create their own packs and plans is also not a practical solution, he pointed out.
Even if they did, the servers of these providers would soon be overwhelmed under the massive load if every subscriber chose to make his or her own plan.
As such, many providers have decided to move consumers to certain set of pre-designed plans, and then allow them to add or delete the channels contained in these packs as a second step.
The complaints have arisen because the ‘second step’ of modifying base packs is not available in case of many providers, leaving consumers frustrated.
On the other hand, there are also a handful of players, particularly on cable side, who are allowing consumers to start off with the channels of their choice right from Day 1.
There are also players like Tata Sky that have not even announced the price list of channels that will be applicable from Feb 1.
So far, D2h and Dish TV have been the most prompt among DTH players in migrating users to TRAI-compliant plans.
They have both come out with ‘starter’ packs for each of their markets, with prices ranging from Rs 150-500 per month.
You can see Airtel Digital’s starter packs here.
It should be noted that under the new TRAI regulation, these packs are ‘modifiable’ according to the consumer’s choice. The operator has to allow consumers to knock off channels they don’t want, and add those they do, including both free and pay channels.
However, the operator has to offer the facility for doing so only by Feb 1.
Responding to consumer complaints, TRAI issued a statement clarifying that consumers had the full right to decide the composition of their pack and no channel, other than those of DD, can be made mandatory on any consumer.
“Consumer has complete freedom to choose their desired 100 Standard Definition (SD) channels within the network capacity fee of maximum Rs.130 I-. The desired channels could be in A-Ia-carte Free to Air channels or Pay channels or bouquet of pay channels or any combination thereof. The choice completely rests with the consumers,” TRAI said in a statement released after this report was originally filed.
It also noted that many broadcasters, or channel owners, are only publicizing their pack prices, and not their channel prices.
“It has been noticed that several broadcasters are advertising their channels in the form of bouquets only. However customer may note that they have option to choose channels on a-la-carte also. The maximum retail price (MRP) of a channel on a-la-carte can be viewed in the Electronic Programe Guide (EPG) or Menu of their TV screens,” it added.
Consumers can change their channels by calling their local cable operator or making a call to the call center of the DTH or cable feed provider or by using website or the app of the cable operator or DTH provider.