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TRAI bats for commercial interoperability of STBs

MUMBAI: Soon switching from one multi-system operator (MSO) to another and from one direct-to-home (DTH) service provider to another will become a reality. Since set-top boxes (STBs) are not technically interoperable, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is bringing in commercial interoperability regulation that aims to empower customers who want to change their service provider.

TRAI has issued a draft tariff order for offering set-top boxes (STBs) on rental basis for both cable TV and DTH. The broadcast sector regulator has sought comments from stakeholders on the draft tariff orders by 26 April, following which it would issue the final standard tariff package (STP) for STBs for Digital Addressable System (DAS).

Though existing laws make it necessary for all service providers to offer a rental option for the STB, not many comply with this clause. TRAI has, thus, decided to mandate all service providers to offer standard tariff packages for STB/CPE (customer premises equipment) on rental basis in order to protect the interests of the customers. There will also be outright purchase options.

TRAI has given four plans (each for DTH and Cable) so that customers can procure STB on a hire-purchase or rental basis and shift to another service provider if they are not happy with the existing one. The service providers are allowed to offer any/many number of plans other than these four mandatory ones.

Highlights of the order:

The four rental plans outlined by TRAI (for both Cable & DTH) are as follows:

  • In the adjustable option, the security deposit is adjusted to the duration for which the STB is used and a left over amount is refunded to the customer.
  • STB cost of cable is assumed at Rs 1,750 & DTH is Rs 2,250
  • After 5 years the STB becomes the property of the subscriber
  • No repairs & maintenance charges can be levied by the service provider during the first 5 years
  • No installation charges to be paid by customer

How commercial interoperability can protect the consumer interests

TRAI is confident that commercial interoperability will promote healthy competition among the MSOs and DTH operators alike to provide better viewing experience to the consumer at an affordable cost.

The sector regulator said that the non-compatibility of STBs/CPEs with varying technologies deployed by operators is hampering the effective migration of subscribers from one service provider to another.

In case of DTH, the need for commercial interoperability arose from the fact that the schemes for CPEs have wide variations and at times are such that no viable exit option is available to the subscribers. The consumer, in fact, has to re-invest in new hardware in case of migration from a particular operator.

The authority is of the view that the interests of the consumers can be protected through the provision for commercial interoperability of STB/CPE, which provides an exit option for a subscriber.

Installation within two days

An MSO or a DTH operator on receipt of a request will have to supply and install the STB/CPE within two days of making such request by the subscriber, subject to technical or operational feasibility.

However, if it is not technically or operationally feasible to provide cable services at the location requested by the applicant, then the MSO/DTH operator will have to indicate reasons as to why it is not feasible to provide services within two days from the date of receipt of the application.

Reporting of tariff packages to TRAI a must

The draft tariff also stipulates every MSO/DTH operator to report to TRAI the tariff packages, including all terms and conditions, associated with the supply of STBs to the subscribers.

The first such report will have to be sent by the MSO/DTH operator on the time period to be fixed by the authority later. Thereafter, any changes to these tariff packages will have to be reported seven days prior to the launch of a new tariff package.

Full text of TRAI’s draft

Tariff for supply and installation of cable TV STBs