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DTH firms seek dropping of STB clause

Ashish Sinha  |  New Delhi 

In what may turn out to be an anti-consumer move, the direct-to-home (DTH) service providers have urged the government to drop the clause that requires DTH set-top boxes to be compatible with all service providers from the licensing norms .
The demand has come to resolve the issue that arises due to technology differences existing between the yet-to-be launched DTH services of Reliance Communications and Bharti and the existing DTH service providers (Dish TV and Tata Sky).
If accepted by the government, the move will deny about 5 million existing DTH subscriber a chance to switch to the DTH services of the new entrants.
Interoperability of set-top boxes, the device that is used to access DTH signals, allows consumers to change their DTH operator without changing the set-top box. This was incorporated in the DTH licensing norms to give the consumers a choice.
As the DTH services of Reliance Communications' Big TV and Bharti will use an advanced MPEG-4 technology compared with the MPEG-2 technology being used by Dish TV and Tata Sky, the set-top boxes of the two different technologies cannot be interoperable without adding some other hardware, experts say.
Currently, only the DTH boxes of Dish TV and Tata Sky are technically interoperable as they use the same compression technology.
The recent recommendations from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) says that while the Bureau of India Standards (BIS) reviews the current interoperability norms for DTH set-top boxes for advanced technologies, new players such as Big TV can go ahead with their DTH service launch.
If this happens, the existing DTH lincesing norms would be violated as the DTH boxes of Big TV or Bharti will not be interoperable with the DTH boxes of Dish TV and Tata Sky.
In a meeting held between the representatives of both existing and the new DTH companies with the secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) recently, the DTH companies have sought removal of the interoperable clause as the "best possible solution" to the existing tussle between Dish TV, Tata Sky on one side and Big TV, Bharti and Videocon on the other.
"Dropping the interoperablility clause is the simplest solution, else either the existing DTH companies or the new DTH operators will have to shell out at least $7-10 to make their DTH boxes interoperable thereby increasing the DTH subscription cost significantly," said a senior executive of a DTH company.
But the largest DTH operator, Dish TV, has opposed this move. Instead, it has urged the government to drop the "reverse interoperability" clause, as suggested by Trai.
Reverse-interoperability means that the existing DTH companies like Dish TV and Tata Sky will be responsible to upgrade the DTH set top boxes of their existing subscribers to make them compatible with MPEG-4 based DTH service providers like Big TV, Bharti and others. Instead it wants the onus of interoperability to be put on the new DTH players.
"We have put our views on the matter before the secretary of the I&B ministry. I am sure there can be other solutions to the interoperability issues. Dropping the interoperable clause from the DTH licensing agreement is not the best option," said A Mohan, executive vice president, Essel Group.
Dish TV belongs to Essel Group though it is listed as a separate company at the Bombay Stock Exchange.

First Published: Mon, February 25 2008. 00:00 IST