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India's Leading Source for Broadcasting & Broadband Information - CableQuest Magazine
HomeArticlesConsumersDIGITISATION for whom?
Saturday, 18 May 2013 08:28


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Hemant Upadhyay
Advisor-IT & Telecom,
Consumer VOICE

All cable TV consumers beware- government of India by amending THE CABLE TELEVISION NETWORKS (REGULATION) ACT, 1995 on 25th October 2011 and by notification dated 11th November 2011 has made it mandatory for all cable television service providers to provide only digital and encrypted signals to their consumers. The time table for this Digital Access System (DAS) has also been notified which prescribes that DAS should be implemented in 4 metros (Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata) by 30th June, 2012 (finally done on 30th October, 2012), other major cities by 31st March 2013 and rest of the country by 31st December, 2014.

The purpose of this exercise is to plug the leakage of revenue (claimed to be about 60 %) of the exchequer due to under-reporting of cable connections by cable operators, controlling the content and superior technology but the ulterior motive seems to b e to help broadcasters and MSOs control cable operators and in turn the consumers and in maximizing their revenue.

A DAS system means the broadcasted channels will be provided by the MSOs to consumers through Local Cable Operators (LCO) only in digital format and fully encrypted requiring the consumer to fit a Set Top Box (STB) to be connected to his Television which will decrypt these digital encrypted channels to be viewed. Please note that for every TV in a household one needs to have a separate STB.

In summary the essential features of DAS are :

1. All channels being broadcasted will be only in digital form, the cut off dates as detailed above.

2. Every channel so digitized will have to be encrypted as well.

3. LCOs will only provide such digital encrypted channels to consumers

4. No analog signal will be available to consumers as per schedule prescribed

5. Consumers will have to install 1 STB for every TV

6. These STBs will be provided to consumers by LCOs within the tariff framework prescribed by TRAI


1. All cable operators will have to register with the registering authority as prescribed by Cable Rules (being formulated by I & B Ministry).

2. All MSOs (providers of content received and assimilated from various Broadcasters to cable operators) also need to be registered with the registering authority.

3. The interconnection agreements will be signed between broadcasters, MSOs and Cable operators (LCOs) as per the guidelines being formulated by TRAI.

4. MSOs will provide Set Top Box (STB) to LCOs as per mutually agreed terms within the framework prescribed in Cable Rules and TRAI guidelines.

5. LCOs will provide these STBs to the consumers

6. TRAI also will be deciding the revenue share of broadcasters, MSOs and LCOs.

7. For the consumers TRAI has mandated that each MSO will provide a FTA basic package of 100 channels. These channels can be hand picked by the consumer and pay Rs 100 for the package. A consumer can also opt for pay channels for which a minimum of Rs 150 has been fixed. consumer will pay more if channels chosen are costing more than this. A 12.5% service tax and entertainment tax as fixed by state government will be in addition.

The reasons given for the need for this legislation were :

1. Ensuring authentic reporting of connections by LCOs

2. Improvement in quality of signal – digital over analog leading to greatly enhanced viewing experience for consumers

3. Enhanced signal carrying capacity as present analog system can provide only about 100 channels whereas the same cable can carry about 400 channels after digitisation

4. Better control over local signals / casual signals

5. Improved TRP system

AND the actual GAINS / LOSSES for different stakeholders are expected to be :

GOVERNMENT (Both Central and State):

State governments will get entertainment tax from all consumers and for each STB installed. Central government will get the service tax and bring transparency and control in the industry apart from getting the license fee from MSOs.


1. 60% to 70% estimated increase in revenue

2. Total control over MSOS and LCOs and hence consumers

3. Total control over advertisements since encryption will ensure no signal overlay till consumer end

4. No additional investment in this digitization as there end is already digitized 

5. Competition from Local video channels eliminated

6. Local advertisements run by LCOs will be totally eliminated.



1. 60% to 70% estimated increase in revenue

2. Total control over LCOs and hence consumers.

3. Total elimination of Local /video channels by LCOs as well as local advertisements since encryption will ensure no signal overlay till consumer end.

4. Substantial investment in this digitization in head-ends and other infrastructure including software required

5. Substantial investment in STBs, customer care systems

6. Billing to consumers under control through SMS system.

7. Informal Cartelisation is now easier


1. Substantial improvement in viewing experience

2. Choice of 400 channels as against only 100 channels at present

3. Additional onetime cost of STB or monthly rental for five years.

4. Increased charges for channel packages as no short-cut rates will be offered by LCOs.

5. Since LCOs will loose alternate avenues of earnings from local advertisement and local channels (estimated 20% 0f LCO’s revenue), they will not be offering discounts on subscription to consumers.

6. Billing to consumers under control through SMS system.

7. Customer service through MSO’s / LCO’s call center which is mostly a nuisance with wastage of time waiting to get connected without resolution. 

8. Consumers will miss-out on local video channels catering to small interest groups / communities catered to by the LCOs. 

9. STB electricity consumption to increase power bills.

10. TRAI should have permitted only FTA network for poor subscribers. 


The composition of packages and channels should be decided based on local demand, locality may be a unit for such decisions. 

TRAI should have prescribed only FTA networks for poor subscribers.

TRAI should have prescribed maximum limits in a-la-carte and packages. Pricing flexibility should be given to service providers in inverse proportion of a channel’s popularity i.e. more popular channels should have more TRAI control and less pricing flexibility to the service providers.

Provision for Porting to another service provider should be there. LCO should be responsible for customer service because it is better to have a face for consumers.

LCO should continue to do the billing. He can be treated as fully connected Customer Care face. Current system of relationship between LCO and MSO can be taken forward with the addition of a real time interconnection.

No prepaid system please as it is not consumer friendly at all. We should learn from Mobile system and avoid this trap altogether.

From consumers’ perspective more alternatives always help the consumers and maintain market competition. Hence non-addressable digital Set Top Boxes (NA-STB) should also be an alternative offered to consumers. 

After sunset date we suspect that there will be a creeping increase in rates on various pretexts as the consumer will be tied to the STB provider. Unless we can ensure the level of competition which exists today among LCOs we will not be protecting the consumer.

Two main issues which are a must for ensuring competition among service providers have not been addressed at all.

a. Portability of Set Top Boxes (STB) – This is the only way service providers can be kept on their toes. We should learn the lesson from Mobile services which has made India the lowest cost market as far as Mobile services go.

b. Ensure that there are at least 3 cable service providers in all the areas.

c. Non addressable STBs for FTA channels.

d. A community set up also should be explored like providing a single connection to a housing society to be managed by the society.

1.Complaint redressal systems are not in place and no proper contracts for consumers exist.

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