NEW DELHI: India’s telecom regulator has begun a review of the broadcast tariff regime it implemented eight months ago to address complaints from viewers about higher bills and picking the channels they want to watch becoming more difficult.
The review is aimed at easing channel choice and will possibly lead to lower bills, some experts said. The regulator also admonished broadcasters and cable operators for misusing the new rules to extract revenue and kill consumer choice.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India issued an exhaustive consultation paper on Friday that also raised about 30 questions. It asked whether channel bouquets should be allowed, whether caps on discounts within bouquets offered to consumers should be reintroduced and whether the ceiling price of channels in bouquets — at ?19 now — should be reexamined.
The regulator called out cable operators and DTH providers — together known as distribution platform operators (DPOs) — as well as broadcasters for seeking to squeeze consumers by pricing popular a-la-carte channels higher outside bouquets. Also, as part of this, channel prices had been changed after Trai introduced the new rules in December 2018. The sheer number of channel groups is confusing, it said.
“Broadcasters and DPOs are offering large number of bouquets, which is confusing the subscribers and as such consumer is not able to exercise informed choice,” said Trai secretary SK Gupta.
ET had reported on May 22 that Trai was considering a review.
‘Misuse of Flexibility by Cos’
“High discounts by broadcasters while offering the bouquet has also reduced consumer choice. This is a clear misuse of the flexibility given to them,” said Trai secretary SK Gupta.
These discounted bouquets contain some popular channels but also a number of those that few want to watch, thus driving up overall viewership numbers and thereby revenue, it argued.
“The formation of bouquets (with very few popular channels and others with very low viewership) by broadcasters is not based on consumer demands,” the regulator said. “It is purely driven by the motive of earning higher revenues at the cost of consumers. Such bouquet formation has least consideration of consumer choice.”
This demonstrated “misuse of flexibility” that had been given to broadcasters in forming and pricing channels, it said.
The right of the consumers to select and pay for only what they want to view still “remains elusive”, the regulator has said, suggesting that consumers were being forced to pay high prices for channels they want to watch because of the manner in which the channels were being grouped.
“This new consultation paper is aimed at correcting these anomalies, and giving consumer their rightful power of choice,” Gupta said.
Comments on the Trai consultation paper and arguments against them have been sought until September 16 and September 30, respectively.
Trai last week asked third parties to create apps to help consumers choose their TV channels from any cable or direct-to-home (DTH) provider in response to complaints from consumers that they were unable to opt for channels of their choice.
Experts said that Trai’s new consultation move may be favourable for viewers, who have been complaining of higher monthly bills since March 2019, when the new tariffs were made effective.
“While the intent of Trai’s new regulatory framework was to give freedom to consumers in terms of choice, many confusions abounded,” said Prabhu Ram, head of the intelligence group at Cybermedia Research. “The new Trai consultation paper is a pertinent proposal aimed to benefit consumers, and translating into lower monthly bills.”
Trai, which regulates the cable and broadcasting space besides telecommunications in India, asked whether the rules have affected the ability and freedom of subscribers to choose the TV channels they want.
Besides asking what other measures can be taken to prevent pushing of unwanted channels to consumers, Trai has also sought views on whether a cap on discounts in a bouquet should be reintroduced. It also asked whether there should be a limit to the number of bouquets offered by market, region or operator and whether regulatory provisions should enable discounts in Network Capacity Fees (NCF) — currently at Rs 130 — and distributor retail prices (DRP) for multiple televisions in one home.