Consumer body challenges CCI clearance to DTH on interoperability

NEW DELHI: The Competition Appellate Tribunal (COMPAT) has admitted a petition challenging the Competition Commission of India‘s clearance to direct-to-home (DTH) operators including Tata Sky and Reliance Big TV of charges of market dominance abuse in the matter of set top boxes (STBs).

The CCI‘s 16-month-old order closing proceedings against the DTH operators over denial of interoperability to customers by changing Conditional Access Module (CAM) cards has been challenged by Consumer Online Foundation (COF).

After hearing counsel A N Haksar, the tribunal listed the matter for 5 September.

CCI had in March 2011 closed the case against DTH operators, saying they have not abused their dominant market position by not allowing interoperability.

In its complaint before the CCI, the COF had alleged that such a practice restricts choice of a DTH customer to enjoy the services of another DTH operator.

Under the present situation, they will have to buy a new STB from the new operator as a customer cannot change CAM cards in its STB.

According to COF, DTH services should be offered on the lines of mobile phone services where a consumer can use services of any telecom operator by changing the SIM card in his/her phone.

The CCI had said that there are techno-economic issues involved in making STBs interoperable. Moreover, the price of a CAM card, which is scarce in the market, is much higher than the price of a STB.

"We see no reason as to why the DTH operators should not give clear choice to subscribers to outright purchase, hire-purchase or rent the STB as mandated under the Direct to Home Broadcasting Services (Standards of Quality of Service and Redressal of Grievances) Regulations, 2007," said CCI.

"The practice of supplying STB/CAMs by DTH service providers along with the subscription is not due to any tacit agreement or action in concert, but due to limitations of the existing technology and its cost," the competition regulator added.

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