TRAI denies media report on offering 100 pay channels for Rs 153 under new tariff rule

TRAI has warned users against rumors and fake news

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has denied a news report published by a major daily in India, claiming that the Authority has issued an order giving 100 free or pay channels for Rs 153.

An official pointed out that the Authority has issued no such new rule, and that it is not possible to provide 100 pay channels for Rs 153.

NEW CHARGES EXPLAINED

Under the new system, there are two types of charges — network charge and content charge.

The network charge is Rs 153 per month and is the same, whether you are watching free channels or pay channels.

But content charges will change, depending on your selection of channels.

For all free or FTA channels, the content charge will always be zero.

But for pay channels, content charges are not zero and will range from 12 paise per channel to Rs 22.42 per channel.

Now, assuming that a person wants to watch only free-to-air channels, he has to only pay network charges, because the content charge on all free-to-air channels is zero.

Hence, if a person has only free-to-air channels in his basic pack of 100 channels, he has to pay only the network charge, or Rs 153 per month.

But if he wants to replace 10 free channels out of these 100 free channels with 10 pay channels, then the network charge will remain at Rs 153, but he has to pay content charges on top of that.

While earlier he was paying zero rupees as content charges, now he has to pay content charges, depending on the price or MRP of the pay channels.

For example, if each of the 10 pay channels he wants to watch is priced at Rs 5 each, the total content charge for the 10 pay channels works out to Rs 50.

Hence, his total bill works out to a network charge of Rs 153 plus a content charge of Rs 50, taking the total to Rs 203 per month.

When TRAI says that consumers are free to choose ‘pay channels or free channels’ in the basic pack of 100 channels, what it means is that the network charge of Rs 153 will not change. It does not mean that there will be no content charges .

What the TRAI has not clarified, but is understood, is that if someone replaces any free channel with a pay channel, then content charges will rise and must be paid separately, even though network charges remain the same at Rs 153.

TRAI did not state this explicitly, which seems to have confused journalists.

Therefore, TRAI’s recent clarification that customers are free to choose ‘pay channels or free channels’ as part of the basic pack has led to headlines screaming that subscribers can get 100 pay channels for just Rs 153.

“Pay channel prices have to be paid on top of the Rs 153. Rs 153 is only the network charges that are levied by the cable or DTH operator,” the official said.

In other words, for Rs 153, a person is entitled to get 72 channels. These choice of these channels is entirely up to the customer. They can all be free-to-air, they can all be pay channels, or they can be a mix of free and paid channels.

But if pay channels are included in this base 72 channels, then the customer has to pay pay channel charges, or content charges, on to of the Rs 153 that he or she has to pay as network charges.

For example, if a person chooses only 100 free channels, he or she has to pay only 153 per month.

If, on the other hand, he chooses 90 free channels and 10 pay channels, then he has to pay Rs 153 network charge plus the ‘MRP rates’ of those 10 pay channels.

RUMORS

TRAI has, in recent past, warned ‘interested parties’ from spreading rumors about the upcoming change related to the implementation of its 2017 tariff order on TV channels.

Under the new regime, cable and DTH subscribers will have to pay two types of charges — a network charge to compensate network providers like DTH or cable company — and content charges to compensate content makers, also known as broadcasters or channel owners.

The network fee has been priced at Rs 130 per month. Together with an 18% GST, the total charge works out to Rs 153.40.

ONLY FREE TO AIR

However, for this amount, a customer can only watch 72 free-to-air channels of his choice, along with 28 Doordarshan channels.

Free-to-air channels refer to those which are fully ad-supported and therefore made available to cable and DTH providers absolutely free of charge.

The list of free-to-air channels include most of India’s news channels, as well as more than half of India’s regional channels.

Out of a total of about 850 channels, around 520 have declared themselves to be free-to-air. A list of the prominent free channels can be found here.

To watch the remaining 332 channels, including popular ones such as Zee TV, &TV, Sony, SAB, Star Plus, Star Sports and Discovery, the customer has to pay specific prices ranging from 12 paise per month for some news channels to 22.42 rupees per month for popular channels like Zee and Star.

Instead of buying the channels one-by-one, subscribers can also buy channel packs or bouquets if the DTH or cable companies supports such offerings.

A list of pay channels and their individual prices can be found here, and a list of channel packs and their prices can be found here.

CONSUMER ANGST

The high prices of channels announced under the new tariff order has created a lot of heartburn among consumers.

With popular pay channels cost an average of around Rs 16 per month, someone who subscribes to just around 30 pay channels will have to shell out around Rs 720 per month including network charges and content charges.

In comparison, under the present tariff scheme, one can get such a pack for around Rs 200-350 per month, depending on the market and genres.

Last week, the Supreme Court told TRAI that it has the power to rectify the situation by forcing channel owners to bring down channel prices in line with pack prices. However, the regulator is yet to issue such a directive.

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