TRAI cracks the whip again on DAS phase I MSOs

MUMBAI: Consumer billing has been a major irritant for all those involved in the process of India's cable TV digitisation. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has been hauling up all and sundry amongst the multi-system operators (MSOs) to issue bills to cable TV subscribers, but has not managed to get the process in motion as yet even in the DAS phase I metros of Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata.

Now it's time for another warning from the TRAI. It has written to 29 MSOs in the DAS phase I areas, telling them that they have to get their act together on consumer billing for the month of November 2013. Bills should be dispatched to cable TV subscribers by either the MSOs or local cable TV operators by 15 December; and a compliance report submitted by 31 December. Earlier on 6 November, the TRAI had intervened asking the MSOs to send a compliance report for Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata by 15 November.

The direction comes from the powers conferred on the authority under section 13, read with sub clauses (i) and (v) of clause (b) of sub-section (1) of section 11, of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997 (24 of 1997) and regulation 14, 15, 16 and 24 of the Standards of Quality of Service (Digital Addressable Cable TV Systems) Regulations, 2012 and to protect the interest of the consumer.

As per the direction, the MSOs also need to ensure that a proper receipt is given by it or its linked LCO for every payment made by the subscriber. “The MSOs will have to offer cable TV services to its subscribers on both pre-paid and post-paid payment options and generate bills for subscriber. That apart, the MSO also has to provide to the pre-paid subscriber, at a reasonable cost, the information relating to the itemised usage charge showing actual usage of service,” states the TRAI direction.

What is notable is that it is not mandatory for the MSOs or its linked LCO to provide to the subscriber the information for any period beyond six months, preceding the month in which the request is made by the subscriber. According to the direction, “Every MSO shall, on request from the subscriber, change his payment plan from pre-paid to post-paid or vice-versa, without any extra charge.”

To make the billing process clearer, the regulator has, as per regulation 15 of the Standards of Quality of Service (Digital Addressable Cable TV Systems) Regulations, provided that every MSO should - either directly or through the LCO - “give to every subscriber the bill for charges due and payable by such subscriber for each month or for such other period as agreed between the parties, for which such charges become payable by the subscriber.”

The subscriber will be billed, generally on a monthly basis, including the service tax registration number and the MSO's entertainment tax registration number. “Every MSO or its linked LCO, shall give 15 days, from the date of the bill, to every subscriber for making payment of the bill and in case the subscriber fails to make payment after expiry of the due date of payment, the MSO or LCO may charge simple interest of 12 per cent per annum on the amount due for the delay in making payment,” states TRAI's direction.

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