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TRAI pulls up broadcasters for “heavily discounted” channel bouquets in new consultation paper

TRAI said that the flexibility given under the new framework for DTH and cable operators, which came into effect on February 1, 2019, has been "grossly misused" by broadcasters.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released a new consultation paper for broadcasting and cable services on issues related to tariffs. TRAI pulled up broadcasters for offering bouquets at "heavily" discounted prices compared to the sum of a-la-carte channels, thereby impacting the choice of channels by consumers.

Addressing the shareholders, TRAI noted in the paper that some the broadcasters pushed only a few popular channels in discounted bouquets but consumers were forced to pay for the entire bouquet, which has led to confusion as they ended up paying for unwanted channels as well, thus restricting consumer choice.

"In fact, in the earlier framework, due to heavy discount in bouquet, consumers were confused and misled to find more illusionary value for money in the bouquet. Further, some bouquets were being offered by broadcasters at a discount of up to 80 per cent -90 per cent of the sum of a-la-carte rates of pay channels constituting those bouquets," read TRAI’s consultation paper.

Further, TRAI said that the flexibility given under the new framework for DTH and cable operators, which came into effect on February 1, 2019, has been "grossly misused" by broadcasters. For those unaware, the framework gives consumers full freedom to choose their new channels and cable TV packs based on preferences.

Read more: DTH vs OTT streaming services? Hotstar, Amazon Prime, Netflix vs Tata Sky, Dish TV prices

It pointed out that the prices of channels have been modified to fit the channels into bouquets, which clearly suggests that broadcasters are trying to push channels into bouquets rather than giving choice to subscribers on an a-la-carte basis. "However, the readjustment of the channel prices by the broadcasters clearly indicates that flexibility of the framework has not only been misused to increase the channel prices but also denied choice of the channels to the consumers."

TRAI also sought views of shareholders on whether discount in NCF (Network Capacity Fee) for multi-TV connections should be enabled and whether a cap can be fixed for secondary and subsequent TV connections in a home for multi-TV scenario. To give a perspective, the NCF is set at Rs 130 plus 18 per cent GST, which comes to around Rs 153 for 100 Standard Definition channels, after which Rs 20 is charged for the slab of per 25 SD channels.

As per TRAI’s latest multi-TV policy, NCF is not mandatory for subscribers who own more than one TV connection in a household. Tata Sky has its Room TV service for multi-TV subscribers and the company bills each connection separately including Rs 153 NCF.

Also read: Multiple DTH connections at home? We compare prices, multi-TV policy of Tata Sky, DishTV, Airtel Digital TV, D2h

Meanwhile, DishTV charges a flat of Rs 50 plus taxes on each secondary connection, while the NCF on the primary connection is Rs 153. As for Airtel Digital TV, secondary connections need to pay NCF of Rs 80 plus taxes for up to 100 channels and Rs 20 extra for additional 25 channel slab above 100 channel.

TRAI has also talked about making the NCF variable for different regions as well as on the basis of the number of channels chosen by subscribers after issues raised by some Distribution Platform Operators (DPOs) that this will help then offer more attractive plans to consumers. It is also looking into whether the 25 DD mandatory channels can be over and above the 100 channels permitted in the NCF of Rs 130.