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MSOs can’t switch off signals to LCOs without 3-week notice: TRAI advisory

MUMBAI: In order to protect the interests of the consumers, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has come out with three sets of advisories to the multi-system operators (MSOs).

MSOs can switch off signals to a linked local cable operator (LCO) only with proper notice, degrading channel packages should be done with proper procedure, and faulty set-top boxes (STBs) need to be repaired or replaced.

For starters, the broadcast sector regulator has issued an advisory directing MSOs not to switch off signals to a linked LCO without giving three weeks’ notice. The notice must clearly specify the reasons for disconnection of signals in line with digital addressable system (DAS) regulations.

“The MSOs can’t be blamed for this. We were de-activating STBs to pressure the LCOs to pay us our share of the subscription revenues. We used to darken only a part of the LCO’s total network base. A notice period of 21 days is fine with us,” said the head of an MSO on condition of anonymity.

The LCOs have welcomed the advisory. “It’s the right advisory to come out with in light of random switch-offs by the MSOs. This was long overdue. The main issue is that the consumers are suffering,” said Maharashtra Cable Operators Federation (MCOF) president Arvind Prabhoo.

Agreed Karnataka Digital Cable TV Operators Association spokesperson Sudhish Kumar. “If channels are switched off too frequently, the customer might shift to DTH. The MSO should give at least 21 days’ notice before switching off any channel. Even after switching off, the channel should be offered a la carte. The cable TV business is not about switching off channels. It is rather about providing all the channels throughout the year,” he said.

The channels subscribed by a customer should not be switched off or discontinued without following the proper procedure provided in the Quality of Service (QoS) Regulations for DAS, TRAI deputy advisor GS Kesarwani said in the advisory.

MSOs providing cable TV services through DAS are advised not to degrade, stop, or switch off any channel without following the proper procedure mentioned in the regulations, the advisory read.

“We have to pay content cost to broadcasters, and this is climbing. What do we do when the LCO is collecting the subscription revenue from the consumer but not paying the whole of it? On such occasions, we trim the bouquet to the basic tier. But we do this only to a part of the LCO’s network,” said the head of a leading MSO.

The LCOs believe that this is an unfair practice. “We met TRAI principal advisor SK Gupta. We told him that the government is asking us to seed STBs in Phase III and IV. But with regulations yet not implemented in Phases I and II, how do you expect us to do that? By downgrading packages to us, the MSO is indirectly harming the interests of the consumer,” said Kumar.

In a separate advisory, TRAI said that the QoS regulation for DAS requires every MSO or its linked LCO to ensure that a faulty STB is repaired or replaced with a new STB without any extra charge within 24 hours of the receipt of the complaint.

TRAI said that the STB must be covered within the warranty period or acquired by the subscriber on hire purchase or on rental basis.

As per the Standards of QoS (Digital Addressable Cable TV Systems) Regulations, 2012 (12 of 2012), the MSOs are advised to look into consumer complaints within 24 hours.

For adhering to the timelines provided in the regulation, spare STBs may be given to the linked LCOs to ensure speedy restoration of services, the authority said.

Since the consumers approach linked LCOs for immediate redressal of their complaints, the MSOs are required to lay down proper communication procedures to register complaints through LCOs and get them addressed on priority.

“We repair or replace the STBs. Less than one per cent of our STBs turn faulty,” said the MSO head.

According to Kumar, the MSOs should play a more active role in this area. “The MSOs say that it’s their STBs. Then the servicing of these STBs should be their responsibility. The MSOs should give a replacement STB to the customer until the faulty one gets repaired,” he said.

TRAI has notified a comprehensive regulatory framework encompassing interconnection, QoS, consumer complaint redressal regulation and tariff orders for DAS implementation.