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TRAI’s New Rules For Cable & DTH: Everything You Need to Know Ahead of the Feb 1 Deadline

From February 1, new guidelines that dictate channel pricing and subscription packages kick in, which should perhaps make cable TV and DTH subscriptions a bit more affordable.

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Vishal Mathur
Updated: January 20, 2019, 13:28 IST

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is giving the cable TV and the direct to home (DTH) space a bit shakeup. The regulator has made this move to make television subscriptions a bit more affordable. The framework comprises of Interconnection Regulations 2017, Quality of Service & Consumer Protection Regulations 2017 and Tariff Order 2017, which originally had to come into effect from the end of 2018 but was extended till the end of January for a smoother rollout of new tariff plans.

The new system, which will become applicable on February 1, mandates broadcasters to publish the tariffs for each channel (also known as ala-carte) as well as for bouquets (a combination of channels for a fixed price). Subsequently, cable TV providers such as Hathway and Den, and DTH companies such as TataSky and Airtel Digital TV are mandated to publish these prices and allow subscribers the complete freedom to pick from these bouquets and ala-carte channel options.

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TRAI has capped the pricing, for broadcasters, for each standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD) channel at Rs19, before taxes. Broadcasters are free to offer their channels as a part of a larger bouquet(s) as they wish but have to also mandatorily offer each channel on an ala-carte basis. The cable and DTH operators have to list the pricing of each channel in the electronic program guide (EPG) or the menu of their set top boxes (STB).

To get started, subscribers need to have in place what is known as a channel base pack. This will include 100 channels and will be priced at Rs130 plus taxes. “Consumer has complete freedom to choose their desired 100 Standard Definition (SD) channels within the network capacity fee of maximum Rs.130 plus taxes. The desired channels could be in A-Ia-carte Free to Air channels or Pay channels or bouquet of pay channels or any combination thereof. The choice completely rests with the consumers," says TRAI in an information note released on January 10.

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The confusion here may be with the wording of the notification, but if a consumer chooses a pay channel as part of the basic package, they will need to pay the price of that ala-carte channel and above the Rs130 plus taxes for the base pack. This clarification came after there was some confusion initially about which channels will be a part of the mandatory base pack—the suspicion was that cable operators and DTH companies will pack this in with free to air or otherwise lower viewership channels. There are also 25 channels from public broadcaster Doordarshan (DD) to factor in, as mandated by the government.

Incidentally, if a user is to select a HD channel in the base pack, that will count as 2 channels instead.

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DTH and cable companies are completely free to price this pack lower than the maximum suggested price of Rs130 plus taxes, and could even go ahead and offer more than 100 channels if competition demands.

But what if you watch a lot of channels and still need to subscribe to more beyond the base pack of 100 channels? TRAI’s guidelines suggest that you will be able to subscribe to packs of 25 channels each at Rs20 channel per extra pack.

At the time of writing this, Dish TV is offering the option to consumers to align their subscription packs in accordance with the new TRAI ruling for base packs (there is a MAP Tool link on their website), additional channels, the new channel rates as well as channel bouquets. Videocon d2h is also offering is also offering the same option to its subscribers. At the time of writing this, d2h subscribers pay Rs12.7 per month for an SD channels and Rs21.2 per month for an HD channel. However, it will be interesting to note that for SD channels that cost lesser, will there by a price realignment?

Broadcasters have released the pricing for each of the channels they currently downlink and broadcast in India. This includes ala-carte pricing as well as the larger bouquet pricing, as per the New Regulatory Framework 2017 which will be implemented from February. Some broadcasters are pushing the limits to the fullest on pricing. For instance, Sony Pictures Networks India Pvt. Ltd. has priced Sony (SD) and and Sony HD channels at Rs19 each.

There is still some doubt on how smoothly the implementation of the New Regulatory Framework 2017 will happen, because not all cable and DTH operators have released the updated tariff plans and the option for users to switch—expect more movement in the coming days, as we get closer to the date of implementation.

>In the second part of this series which will be published tomorrow, we will look at the legal battles pitting TRAI against DTH operators and broadcasters, regarding the new tariff guidelines and the February 1 deadline.

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first published: January 20, 2019, 13:24 IST