In what may come as a surprise, it is the government and not the private DTH operators which is responsible for the lack of interoperability among the various DTH set-top boxes.
Further, thanks to inaction on the part of the government and the regulator, private DTH firms have continued to violate the licensing conditions over the past eight years.
Taking a critical note of the Union government’s functioning in the broadcast sector, the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has said that due to lack of active policy initiatives by both the information and broadcasting ministry and the sector regulator — Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) — millions of DTH consumers today have no choice but to become slaves of their respective DTH service providers.
Besides, all operators have been allowed to violate the DTH licensing conditions.
The tribunal has given 180 days to the government to clear its stand and take corrective action. Out of these 180 days, Trai will get 120 days to make fresh recommendations and the I&B ministry 60 days to act on them.
“It must be held that the government has allowed breach of licence conditions to take place,” TDSAT said in its judgment in a case filed by a Chennai-based NGO against the Union government over non-interoperability among the DTH boxes.
TDSAT noted that the DTH licensing conditions made it mandatory for all DTH service providers to offer only those set-top boxes which were interoperable, both commercially and technically. However, as the DTH licensing conditions are only for MPEG-2 boxes (offered by Dish TV, Tata Sky and DD Direct Plus) and not for the MPEG-4 boxes (Airtel digital TV, Reliance Big TV, Sun Direct and Videocon D2H), both the I&B ministry and Trai did not act on them and allowed the violations of Clause 7.1 of the DTH licensing conditions.
In its recent judgment, TDSAT said: “It is a matter of concern that the government (I&B) took two years and four months to make its comments on the Trai recommendations on interoperability and then sent them back.”
Commenting on Trai’s role, it said: “It is difficult to comprehend that keeping in view the interest of the consumers, Trai had not been keeping a watch on the websites of the operators. The regulations having been made in this behalf as back as in 2007, it was expected that steps be taken for seeing that its recommendations are implemented. We are of the opinion that Trai should be asked to do so.”
The tribunal also observed that Trai did not keep a tab on the private DTH companies which failed to inform consumers that their boxes could be obtained in three ways – outright purchase, hire-purchase and rentals — and that consumers could return the boxes in case they wanted to change their DTH operator. Interoperability in DTH simply means that a consumer can access the services of any other DTH operator without changing his existing set-top box.
While the law mandates portability, in practice, none of the six private DTH firms have offered interoperable boxes to their 37 million-plus subscribers.