Consumer organizations and cable operators have opposed any move by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to remove the freeze on the prices of cable and satellite TV channels.
Broadcasters such as Sony Entertainment Television (India) Pvt. Ltd and Star India Pvt. Ltd have, however, welcomed the authority’s move to examine the cap on prices that was put in place three years ago.
Last month, Trai had invited comments from all stakeholders, such as consumers, cable operators, multi-service operators and broadcasters, on whether to allow TV channels to increase their prices in the light of increasing competition from alternative distribution platforms such as direct to home (DTH) and rising inflation.
In its response to Trai, Walt Disney Co. India Pvt. Ltd has pointed out that “the (December 2003) tariff regulation was intended to be a ‘temporary’ measure. Almost three years have elapsed since its implementation. The market is no longer the same”.
Consumer rights organizations and cable operators, however, are opposed to any such move.
“Total forbearance (by the regulator, on the prices) will lead to exploitation of consumers,” Pune-based consumer interest group Grahak Hitvardhini Sarvajanik Sanstha said in its presentation. It said alternative platforms, such as DTH and broadband, have a limited presence and are not a threat to the present players yet.
Big cable operators, on their part, have also asked Trai not to remove the cap on channel prices. According to them, though price controls exist, an honest consumer who pays for all the channels she sees will have to shell out in excess of Rs500 per month under the system of bundling less popular channels with the others.
“The five major pay broadcasters and content aggregators control more than 80% of the content,” pointed out Mumbai-based Hathway Cable & Datacom Pvt. Ltd, urging Trai to ask broadcasters to sell their channels independently, instead of bundling them together. “Present pay-broadcasters’ total rack rate is over Rs475 per month and after factoring in taxes and delivery and distribution costs, the monthly subscription fees ought to be Rs700,” it said.
Trai will formulate its own proposals after assessing these presentations and its final recommendation will be binding on all parties.