Regulators

Consumer groups urge Trai to monitor service quality

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MUMBAI: "Set up a well defined monitoring system which will keep tabs on the services being provided by companies in the broadcast business."

This was one of the key demands consumer bodies made today during an interactive session with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to discuss "broadcasting and distribution of television channels" in India.

Consumers complained to Trai chairman Pradip Baijal, who chaired the meeting, that despite the Trai order in December freezing rates, cable operators in some areas were disconnecting viewers who did not pony up more money. To this Baijal replied that he could only take action if receipts were provided showing that the cable operator was asking for more money. Of course with the Asia Cup coming up next month ESPN Star Sports would be desperate to increase declarations. Apparently the broadcaster has gone off the air in some areas of the city.

The discussion was in connection with the non implementation of Conditional Access System (CAS) last year and the way forward in terms of addressability. The aim was to discuss policy issues on cable television distribution, pricing and other matters.

One of the organisers of the event was the Bombay Telephone Users Asociation (BTUA). Its joint secretary Achintya Mukherjee spoke about the situation from the consumers' perspective. According to him one of the things that Trai needs to do while formulating policy in the future is to set up local consumer grievance addressability fora. Another thing it needs to do is set up a well defined monitoring system which will keep tabs on the services being provided.

Out of 100 consumer registrations that had been received in the city 83 had complaints. Out of this 66 per cent complained about the poor quality of service in terms of indifferent sound and video quality, exorbitant pricing, rude behaviour and a monopolistic attitude by the cable operators.

Mukherjee also wanted the broadcasters to make their operation costs more transparent. At the forum it was argued that the content cost should be borne by the pay channels and that the consumer should only pay the carriage fee. Otherwise the viewer is paying double because of lost time through ads. The movie Baghban, which was shown on Sony Entertainment's Max channel took seven hours to complete, he pointed out. If the pay

channels carry ads then they should become free to air, he said.

.

Hinduja TMT executive VP Ashok Mansukhani, representing the cable fraternity, also stressed the importance of transparency. He said, "When we ask pay broadcasters to give us details as to the costs they are incurring we are either told that the matter is confidential or that it is none of our business. It is a myth that cable operators increase

subscription charges arbitrarily. Over the past five years the price of pay channels have gone up by 1,500 per cent. MSOs pass on only 25 per cent of this rise onto the consumers and even this is resisted."

Mansukhani also stressed the need for CAS implementation saying that it would give the consumer choice.

It was also pointed out that with the differential rates prevailing there was confusion as to what the fixed rate should be. Baijal said that Trai would be coming out with a recommendation regarding regulating the price of cable TV in a months time. Mukherjee

added that set top boxes needed to be interoperable.

Also consumers should be have the flexibility of taking either a single channel or a bouquet without losing money. Reliance Infocomm's Colonel Vinod Khare struck a telling note saying that the government would have to show determination and force CAS onto the industry if it wanted to implement the same.

"Otherwise even things like the wearing of a crash helmet do not move in this country."

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