25 Sep 2017
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TRAI working on introducing interoperability of STBs

NEW DELHI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India ( TRAI) is looking to introduce technical interoperability of set-top boxes (STBs) provided by multi-system operators (MSOs) and direct-to-home (DTH) players similar to the telecom sector. The regulator will consult the MSOs and DTH operators on the matter.

By bringing technical interoperability, the regulator aims to bring the TV distribution sector on a par with the telecom sector, where customers can change their service provider without having to invest in new hardware, in this case the STB.

In telecom, consumers can freely switch from one service provider to another without having to change their handset. TRAI wants to implement the same template in TV distribution.

While TRAI’s intention, no doubt, is noble, the feasibility of implementing this idea in TV distribution is doubtful. Telecom and TV distribution have different dynamics altogether.

“We are working on introducing interoperability on STBs. The idea is to make them more like a telecom device,” TRAI chairman Ram Sewak Sharma told The Times of India.

The TRAI, Sharma said, is looking at defining standards for STBs to ease the process of changing service provider. Questioning the logic behind service providers supplying the STBs to customers, Sharma said that the regulator would end the monopoly of a service provider on the STBs.

“We will set up standards so that the STBs are not tied to a provider. It should be the same philosophy as in the telecom sector. The STB should be de-coupled from the service provider,” he averred.

Earlier, TRAI advisor (B&CS) Sunil Kumar Singhal had said that the authority is in discussions with stakeholders on STB interoperability.

“Since it is an issue affecting the whole business spectrum, we have started discussions with various stakeholders on how to bring interoperability on STBs,” Singhal said during a meeting with MSOs and LCOs in Mumbai.

DTH operators earlier raised concerns over technical interoperability, arguing that not only is it difficult to achieve but also commercially unviable. They argued that technical interoperability would be difficult to achieve since different platforms operate on different technologies.

TRAI has provided a provision of commercial interoperability for cable TV in digital addressable system (DAS) areas via a tariff order in 2013. As per that tariff order, MSOs have to provide subscribers the option to procure the STB either on outright purchase, or hire purchase, or rental basis to provide an easy exit option to subscribers. TRAI also provided standard tariff packages at which MSOs can provide STBs to consumers.

The issue of commercial interoperability for DTH services is under litigation. TRAI had issued a tariff order for DTH customer premises equipment (CPE) at the same time as cable TV. However, the Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) set aside the tariff order after it was challenged by the DTH players.

After direction from the TDSAT, TRAI once again came out with a draft tariff order for DTH operators in February, seeking their comments on the issue, and finally notified it in April. However, the new tariff order, which capped the installation and activation charges for DTH CPEs at Rs 450, was once again challenged by the DTH operators in the TDSAT. The matter is currently pending before the TDSAT.

As per the new tariff order, DTH operators will have to declare the price of all types of brand-new CPE offered by them along with installation and activation charges and the applicable taxes and duties, if any, to be levied on the subscriber towards the CPE.

They are also required to offer an outright purchase scheme called the ‘Standard Scheme’ for each type of brand-new CPE and give details of all the charges, viz. price of CPE, installation and activation charges, along with applicable taxes and duties.

DTH operators intending to provide refurbished CPE will also have to give details of all the charges as above in respect of each type of refurbished CPE and offer a similar scheme called the ‘Standard Scheme’ for refurbished CPE for each type of refurbished CPE.

Standard Schemes will have to be standalone schemes for CPE and shall not have any programmes (channels or bouquets of channels) bundled with them. There has to be a buy-back/refund mechanism built into every scheme offered by the DTH operators.

Standard Schemes will have to be offered mandatorily in addition to any other schemes that the DTH operators may offer for CPE including bundled scheme(s), if any.