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Portability Of Set-Top Boxes By Year-End: TRAI Chief

Troubled by your cable operator or DTH company, but unable to change your service provider as you are locked into your set-top box (STB)? Things may soon change as broadcast regulator TRAI plans to make digital boxes inter-operable by the end of this year. This will give freedom to millions of customers to change their operator at no cost in case of deficient services.

“I am working on this. It will happen,” Trai chairman RS Sharma told TOI when asked about the introduction of interoperability in the broadcast sector. “Rest assured, we will make inter-operable STBs happen,” Sharma added.

The issue of interoperability has been a difficult one for Trai to implement in the face of stiff resistance from DTH operators and cable service providers. Content distribution companies have often argued that such flexibility is difficult to introduce as every operator’s STB is encrypted, and any attempt to break into it will lead to changes in piracy and plagiarism.

Questions sent to Dish TV and Tata Sky — the country’s biggest DTH providers — remained unanswered.

Industry officials say that every box has different software and configuration, and thus cannot be used for the services of a different company.

Sharma, however, said that instead of loading proprietary software, the boxes should have a method which would allow downloading of software post-purchase.

“For example, you can buy a neutral STB from the market and the instrument remains independent. Thereafter, whosoever is your service provider may load his software on the box,” Sharma said.

Trai is already working with government agencies as well as outside consultants to work out a solution. “We are trying our level best to do it. It’s a technical problem and, therefore, we have involved government-entity Centre for Development of Telematics (CDoT) and other players into this exercise,” Sharma said.

Asked whether he is hopeful to complete the exercise by the end of this year, the Trai chairman said, “The project is going on, though it is taking more time than what we had originally thought of. It is continuing… I will try to certainly complete this within one year.”

Currently, there are over 160 million pay-TV subscribers across the country, and most are locked with their service provider after buying the company’s STB.

Inter-operability has meant that many face difficulty in moving out as they would again need to invest in a new STB while finding no way to dispose of the existing one.

Expressing doubts about Trai’s exercise, industry officials asked what would be the future of the existing STBs in case inter-operability was allowed.

“Even if the new ones may carry different technology, what will be the future of those that are already installed at the homes of subscribers,” asked an official with leading on condition of anonymity.―News Rain

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