19 January 2004, The Hindu

NEW DELHI, JAN 18: Stating that the freezing of cable television rates to the December 2003 level was not enough to protect the interest of lakhs of consumers affected by the CAS decision, the Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) has submitted a seven-point charter of demands to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

Based on consumer research conducted over past 14 months by the consumer-rights non-governmental organisation, the charter of demands provides in clear and concise terms the expectations of consumers from the much controversial Conditional Access System (CAS).

Arguing that CAS had the potential to be consumer-friendly, the NGO demanded that for this, safeguards have to be set in place which must precede or be simultaneous with the implementation of the new system. Demanding that the total household monthly outlay must not exceed the pre-CAS expenditure, CUTS argued that most households never watched more than 15 channels. Thus the consumer would not mind a reduction in the number of channels from the present, it said.

Strongly opposing the “bouquet pricing” being enforced by broadcasters on the consumers, the NGO demanded that viewers should not indirectly be forced to pay for channels not watched by them. “One way to do this would be to have all broadcasters set a standard price for each of their channels, regardless of the popularity of the channel. Popularity gets rewarded by increased advertising revenue, not by increased viewer rentals,” argued Rajan R. Gandhi of the CUTS.

Referring to the standard practice adopted by cable operators worldwide with regard to set-top boxes (STBs), the charter of demands opposed the insistence on the part of the cable operators here that the STBs should be purchased by the consumers. “The STBs must be installed by the service provider as part of the installation process. This is the standard practice overseas: the STB is the property of the service provider who is also responsible for its service, repair or replacement. The cost is amortised over the STB’s expected life and built into the monthly rental.”

Alleging that thus far, consumers were on the whims and fancies of the cable operators, who increased the monthly rentals every now and then, and that too without providing any rationale, Mr. Gandhi demanded that steps needed to be taken which ensured that the monthly rentals were not hiked arbitrarily. Increases should be uniform, transparent and applicable to all viewers. Rentals must be based on cost-plus principles not on opportunistic market-limiting (i.e. the highest the market can bear) principles, the charter demanded.

With joint families very much being part of Indian lifestyles and a number of households having more than one television set, a substantial discount should be offered in such cases, CUTS said.