DTH ops want govt to take measures for cheaper STBs

NEW DELHI: Even as most DTH operators differ that a common Open Architecture based set-top box could ensure technical interoperability among different operators, they are unanimous that the government should take steps to reduce the cost of the STBs.

Meanwhile, most operators have lauded the government‘s efforts towards digitisation and expressed their willingness to support these measures.

The comments came in response to a Consultation Paper issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on the possibility of technical interoperability and technical compatibility among different DTH operators who have adopted the same or different standards.

The consultation paper was issued as the Information and Broadcasting Ministry had on 11 May requested Trai to review its recommendations "Interoperability and Other Issues relating to DTH" of 30 January 2008. In 2006, the Ministry sought recommendations of Trai on various issues related to a DTH licence. One of the issues included technical interoperability in case of set top boxes with recording facility, personal video recorder (PVR) or Digital video recorder (DVR). The Authority made some recommendations to the Ministry on 25 August 2006.
In its response, Tata Sky said both inter (in between) and Intra (within) operator interoperability is not possible amongst different DTH operators since they have been permitted over the last three years to adopt different standards. The Ministry has stated that if the DTH STB standard is to be revised, it should be such that ensures both Inter (in between) and Intra (within) operator interoperability.

It said the rationale behind technical interoperability - that customers should be able to switch from one DTH operator to another without having to purchase a new operator‘s Customer Premises Equipments (CPE) - was understandable but not possible when there are as many as six private DTH operators apart from the free-to-air Doordarshan Direct Plus.

In any case, the cost of the CPE is no more prohibitive and all DTH operators have deployed substantial subsidies directly to all their subscribers. The fact that some DTH operators are providing STBs free of cost cannot be lost sight of in the present highly competitive context. Any new stipulation in the DTH license agreement that will push the cost of the CPE up is likely to lead to the withdrawal of free STB schemes, currently on offer. Thus, it is the customer who will be the ultimate loser.

Bharti Telemedia (Airtel Digital TV) has said that although the open architecture STB is technically feasible, it would lead to many issues and has cost implications as well. Any open architecture system to support all DTH operators would need additional features in the form of hardware and software support/modification to be added to the box and this would in turn escalate costs.

It has suggested that to support open architecture, there is a need to make an industry consortium which can work towards the common hardware and software solution/specifications for Interoperable STBs. Possibility of common smart cards can be explored so as to forfeit the need for CAMs and to bring down the cost of STBs.

It added that it is important that all future network and STBs manufactured/imported be consistent with the highest technical standard.

Any regulatory intervention should not stop the march of technology. In order to ensure that only the latest technology networks and STBs are deployed by the service providers, the regulator should specify the minimum standards with backward compatibility. This would avoid the deployment of obsolete technologies.

Bharti also said one of the most effective ways for the Government to safeguard the subscribers‘ interests is to move towards a cost reduction for STBs.

According to its estimate, the average churn rate of DTH operators is close to 0.4 per cent and having the CI slot and CAMs in the STB only to provide the technical inter-operability and flexibility to this small percentage of DTH subscribers‘ results in rise in the cost of the STB for all the DTH subscribers.

Thus, it is suggested that the STBs be manufactured with bare minimum features and without the Common Interface (CI) slot and other expensive functions so as to reduce the cost of STB. There should be withdrawal of customs duty, excise duty and other taxes currently levied on the import and manufacturing of STBs. This would bring down the overall cost of the STB and would make it more economical for DTH subscribers to buy a new STB instead of CAM module to switch between DTH operators. The government should support the cost reduction of STBs through allocation of funds and other rebates like tax holidays.

Videocon D2h has, on the other hand, said that the operator can move towards giving maximum flexibility to the subscriber only by moving towards true technical interoperability. But while commercial interoperability is justified for purchased STBs, it is not appropriate for rented boxes. 
D2h also says it is possible to have an open Architecture based STB and claims it has already achieved this level of technical capability.

Dish TV says that no less that four operators are clustered around the 93.5E location on which Sun and DD-Direct operate. These operators also have common visibility of other satellites. This implies that using a common antenna, a customer without making any change in the rooftop antennas, can potentially receive services from more than one satellite provided that the set top box is interoperable. Even customers at other locations such as 88.5E or 83E can view one or more satellites with dual LNBs which are available inexpensively in the market.

However while customers have access to 3-4 satellites or more with the same dish or dual LNBs, they can view the channels on other DTH systems if they have an interoperable set top box with a CI slot and CAMs for other system. This is desirable as not all channels are available on all DTH systems. As an example certain cricket matches were available on only one DTH system and further not all DTH systems carry the same set of channels in SD or HD format.

It also says it is possible to have an open architecture based STB that could ensure technical interoperability and technical compatibility and effective interoperability among different DTH operators who have adopted same standard. Interoperability.

Reliance Big TV does not think there could be standardized interoperable STBs as each box is configured to receive a small number of network requirements to keep its cost low. Interoperability may also help the hackers to break into the networks.

In fact, it says implementation of technical interoperability could be detrimental to the interest of the customer since the cost of the STB with CI and CAM mandated by the BSI would be high.

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