This is the latest in multiple extensions that have already been extended, as the implementation of the new tariff regime still drags on. However, the statement released by the TRAI doesn’t exactly close all doors on ambiguity.
“In view of the larger public interest, the Authority directs all DPOs that those subscribers who do not exercise their options shall be migrated to a ‘Best Fit Plan’,” says TRAI in an official statement, before adding, “The subscribers’ old plan shall continue till either subscriber exercise his/her option, or he/she is migrated to the ‘Best Fit Plan’.” In many ways, the cable tv operators and direct to home (DTH) service providers (referred to as Distribution Platform Owners or DPOs) are free to switch users to what is a ‘best fit’ plan under the new subscription packs as per the latest TRAI guidelines, to ensure that the services aren’t disrupted.
“The Authority hereby, vide this press release, extends time up to 31st March 2019 for exercising the option by such subscribers who have not exercised option yet,” says the statement. Clear enough that, and a subscriber, you would believe that you now have till the end of the month of March to register your choice of favorite channels that you continue watching post that time. However, this is where the confusion comes in.
“Subscribers will be free to change their ‘Best Fit Plan’ at any date and time on or before 31st March 2019 and DPOs shall convert their ‘Best Fit Plan’ into the desired pack (channel/Bouquet) within 72 hours from the time choice exercised by the Subscriber,” says TRAI in the official statement. Simply put, the DPOs, in this case your cable TV operator of DTH company still have the right to switch you to a best fit plan according to your current subscription, and you have the right to change this before the end of March at any point of time without the DPO holding you to a lock-in-period clause. The ‘best fit’ plan that you will be switched to shall be picked automatically, if you don’t register your choice manually, based on the new channel packages matching most if not all of the channels that you currently subscribe to.
This latest extension comes just days after TRAI had announced that 65 million cable TV subscribers and 25 million subscribers, in total 90 million television subscribers in India, had made the switch to the new tariff plans already.
Safe to say, the latest extension testifies to the fact that this has not been a smooth rollout of the new tariff regime. There have been rule changes as time passed. Ever since the 1 February deadline, TRAI has had to clarify the guidelines on multiple issues, including the network capacity fees (NCF) charged with each subscription, how connections with multiple televisions registered will be charged as well as how the subscriptions of users who have already paid for long duration packs will be calculated. In that time, TRAI also issued a notice to Airtel to explain why the Digital TV DTH subscribers faced disruptions while switching to the new tariff plans and leant on DTH operator Tata Sky for adopting a wait-and-watch approach before finally relenting and making the new tariffs available to users.
The entire narrative about the TRAI guidelines for cable TV and DTH services has suggested that this is about making your television subscriptions more affordable. However, earlier this month, a report by research firm Crisil suggested that the new tariff plans have had the opposite effect of the intention, and actually made TV subscriptions more expensive instead. “The network capacity fee (NCF) and channel prices announced by broadcasters and distributors as per the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)’s new guidelines could increase the monthly bill of most subscribers of television channels,” the research report said, before adding, “Our analysis of the impact of the regulations indicates a varied impact on monthly TV bills. Based on current pricing, the monthly TV bill can go up by 25 per cent from Rs 230-240 to Rs 300 per month for viewers who opt for the top 10 channels but will come down for those who opt up to top five channels.” However, TRAI had refuted the report, suggesting that it expects channel prices to reduce further within three months.