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Cable TV, DTH Players Oppose TRAI Move on Interoperable STBs

Cable TV operators and DTH service providers have opposed a move by the telecom regulator to introduce interoperability of set-top boxes (STBs). Interoperability would allow users to change the TV service providers without having to change their STB or dish antenna. This is similar to the number portability introduced in the mobile service segment.

However, according to DTH players it was not feasible to introduce interoperability. If it was possible to develop an interoperable box, no DTH operator would have ever invested in manufacturing, selling, and installation of their own boxes.

A consultation paper on draft tariff order, prescribing framework for commercial interoperability of customer premises equipment STB in DTH services was floated in February last year. TRAI had floated a new concept paper recently asking stakeholders to respond on the same issue, asking for ways to implement interoperability.

Currently, cable operators and DTH service providers offer their services bundled with an STB that comes at a cost of Rs.1500-2000. However, if a consumer is not satisfied with his service provider, he is forced to buy a new STB from the other operator because of technical issues. Even the amount paid for the box is non-refundable.

STB of one company is incompatible with the other. Sources indicated that interoperability is an expensive proposition. The cost of a new conditional access module (CAM) for interoperability is same as the new STB. So from a customer’s point of view, it is not a viable option. The very purpose of interoperability gets defeated as you cannot upgrade to the higher version of the compression like high-efficiency video compression.

If all the MSOs will have the same features and the security level, then the competition in the cable market for giving the best services may get diminished. It may further create hurdles for some CAS vendors to come up with a future roadmap in the form of feature development and services to the consumers.

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