In September 2017, Dhiraj Wala, a 62-year-old retiree, bought an annual DTH subscription of Airtel TV for Rs 2,850. In the following year, with increased competition in the sector, the subscription cost him only Rs 2,408.
But thanks to TRAI's new tariff order for cable TV and DTH operators, Wala now has to pay nearly 75 per cent more for watching just 26 paid channels, as against 400 channels he was subscribing to earlier.
“After the implementation of TRAI’s order, the cost of subscription has increased by at least Rs 100 to 150 per month per subscriber. TRAI has stated that there are 20 crore cable / DTH subscribers. i.e. Rs 2,000 crore to Rs 3,000 crore per month or an additional burden of Rs 24,000 crore to Rs 36,000 crore on the Indian public," says Wala in a letter to TRAI.
Another consumer, Ajit Das, says in an email to TRAI, "In no way has the consumer interest been served by the new tariff order. Earlier, consumers used to get almost all the channels at a fixed price or within a price range, with low value. But the consumer is not aware of the new process, which comprises pricing of a single or a bouquet of channels," Das said.
Several consumers, like Wala and Das, are now writing to TRAI, sharing their woes post the implementation of the New Tariff Order (NTO) and how their cable bills have increased sharply post-NTO.
In a report issued on Tuesday, TRAI's own data showed that DTH had an average active subscriber base of around 54.26 million in the quarter ended June 30, 2019, a 25 per cent drop from the 72.44 million reported in the January-March quarter this year.
The TRAI tariff order allows consumers to pay only for the channels they subscribe to, instead of being forced to take a bouquet, which would include channels that they never watch. But broadcasters have ensured that prices of individual channels are high, so that people are forced to take bouquets. In effect, consumers are paying for free channels, channels they wanted to pay for and channels they were forced to pay for.
The cable TV association has also written against the tariff order, accusing broadcasters of misusing the provisions. "The broadcasters as a practice, have tried to push unpopular channels with a few popular/ driver channels by offering bouquets at a highly discounted rate, which is against the ethos of the new regulatory framework introduced by the authority, viz. consumer choice," the All India Digital Cable Federation said in its response to the paper.
Broadcasters, on the other hand, say they are being wrongly targeted and more changes to the tariff regime would spell disaster for the industry.
"To say that the channels that are subscribed to by the consumer, but not frequently watched or not watched at all, are unwanted channels, is a wrong analysis of consumer choices," the Indian Broadcasting Foundation said in its note.
"In the CP (consultation paper), TRAI assumes that choosing channels a la carte is the consumer preferred and friendly route. There is no data provided by TRAI to substantiate this assumption," IBF said, quoting international studies that highlight “unbundling” could have adverse effects for the broadcasting sector and could result in 26 per cent of the current channels becoming unviable.
In this battle between the broadcasters and the regulator, consumers are now forced to cut the cord completely and choose video streaming platforms as an alternative. High competition in the OTT space has ensured that prices are a fraction of the monthly cable bills and there is enough free content available if one chooses not to pay at all.
If you have similar concerns or suggestions for TRAI, you can also share your views by commenting on the "Consultation Paper on Tariff related issues for Broadcasting and Cable services" on the Trai website. Comments are open until the 11th of October.