Break DTH cartel, make one set-top box work for all: Competition panel
Major direct-to-home operators Tata Sky, Dish TV and Reliance¶s Big TV have been found guilty of abusing their dominant position in the marketplace by not allowing ³technical interoperability´ that lets consumers shift from one service provider to another without having to reinvest in a new set-top box (STB) and a dish. In a report to the Competition Commission of India, acting Director General K K Sharma, who investigated the complaint filed by Consumer Online Federation, said subscribers to DTH services are not offered the three options specified by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) that regulates DTH business in the country. As per Trai guidelines of 2007, subscribers must be offered to take STBs on rent, hire purchase or outright purchase. The report said, ³Owing to absence of Conditional Access Module (CAM) in open market, the aspect of technical interoperability has not been achieved among different DTH service operators.´ A CAM card allows the set-top box to read the feeds of more than one service provider.
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³The report has also said that the customer doesn¶t have many options because of great information asymmetry among subscribers as regard to ownership of DTH equipment,´ sources said. The acting DG has noted that the DTH service providers had been found violating Section 3 and Section 4 of the Competition Act. These two sections pertain to cartelisation and abuse of dominance, respectively. Last year, a complaint was filed by a consumer organisation alleging that DTH operators were limiting competition by not offering interoperability. There was tacit understating among the operators relating to purchase of set-top boxes that came bundled with subscriptions. The organisation claimed that DTH service providers had exclusive deals or agreements with manufacturers of set-top boxes, further restricting interoperability. The report has observed that technical and commercial interoperability has not percolated down to consumers due to lack of enforcement of licensing conditions by the regulator, in this case Trai. ³A way has to be found out to effectively enforce the existing stipulated standard so as to enhance competition,´ it said. The acting DG has recommended smart cards and CAM, independent of set-top boxes, should be made available. Besides, Trai may direct DTH operators to inform subscribers adequately about interoperability issues. The regulator must also undertake customer awareness campaigns, he said.