Caught in cable chaos

The cable television industry remains unorganised despite several attempts by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to bring about order. Of the 25 lakh homes in and around Calcutta with access to satellite television, only about 50,000 have Direct to Home (DTH) connections. It is difficult to find a satisfied subscriber among the rest, including the 3 lakh homes covered by Conditional Access System (CAS). Metro focuses on the problems faced by the subscribers:

Non-CAS areas

No choice of cable operator: A subscriber cannot change his cable operator no matter how poor the service is.

Arunava Choudhury, a senior citizen living in Gol Park, is one of the lakhs of people suffering because of this bar. “The other families in our locality are subscribers of Akashdeep but GP Cables provides my cable connection. The transmission is poor but the operator did not bother to install a signal booster for me. I bought a set-top box at the operator’s instance but to no avail,” he said.

When Choudhury approached Akashdeep for a connection, he was told that he would have to retain his GP Cables connection.

“Cable operators across the city do not poach on each other’s customers. This ensures that there is no law and order problem. This can change only if CAS is launched across the city,” said Subrata Chatterjee of Akashdeep.

Weak signal: The most common complaint is poor signal quality. According to industry sources, about 106 channels can be carried in the analogue mode. “But the ground reality is that half the cable operators transmit only 40-odd channels clearly,” said a technician who has been part of the industry for 16 years.

Money muscle: Multi-system operators (MSOs) take carriage money from broadcasters to put channels on the prime brand.

A broadcaster has to pay carriage money of approximately Rs 100 crore per year for a national channel. A regional channel has to pay MSOs about Rs 6 crore annually for visibility in Calcutta and adjoining areas, said sources. Consumer preferences are not considered. One has to watch what is shown by the MSOs, said a media consultant.

“If we pay broadcasters Rs 100, we get only about Rs 50 from cable operators. We don’t have any option but to charge carriage money,” said Mrinal Chatterjee, a founder member of a city MSO.

CAS areas

No choice of channels: The objective of CAS was to bring about parity in cable charges and allow viewers to pay only for the channels they watch. In most of the areas where CAS was introduced — Alipore, New Alipore, Behala, Chetla, Budge Budge, Garden Reach, Thakurpukur, Tollygunge, Haridevpur and Mahestala — customers can only choose packages of channels rather than individual channels.

“We are being forced to pay for channels we do not want. This is not what CAS was meant to be,” said Jiban Pramanik of Maheshtala.

No value-added services: Video-on-demand, audio-on demand, gaming and Internet services have not been launched.

“Subscribers in non-CAS areas will have to pay more if CAS is implemented. With value-added services non-existent, there is no reason to launch CAS throughout the city,” said a cable operator.

“We receive complaints that pay channels are being beamed in analogue mode in CAS areas. There are other bottlenecks like scarcity of set-top boxes,” said Abhijit Sanyal, the nodal officer of Trai.

Redress: “Subscribers can approach the consumer court or come to us with complaints. We assess the merit of individual cases and write to the accused. If an amicable solution cannot be reached, we guide the customer,” said Mala Banerjee, the president of the Federation of Consumer Associations.