Media regulator TRAI has shot off letters to most of the top cable TV feed providers in India, asking them to allow users to change their packs, and ensure that their business partners provide itemized billing to customers and pay tax to the government.
It, however, remains to be seen how cable feed providers are able to enforce some of these provisions such as itemized billing and tax compliance, given the limited leverage they have on their distribution partners.
Under India’s two-tier cable TV system, process of collecting the satellite signals, processing and encrypting it and taking it to local cities and villages is done by feed providers or MSOs, while the actual distribution and collection of monthly charges are done by cable operators.
Cable operators are free to change their upstream feed providers.
TRAI’s new tariff system requires cable operators to give itemized billing to customers. An itemized bill is one in which each of the separate items are clearly mentioned, along with its respective cost or charge.
In case of cable TV, an itemized bill contain broadly three components — the network charge levied by the cable operator, the tax levied by the government and the pay channel charge levied by the channel owners or broadcasters.
However, very few cable operators are providing such itemized bills.
Even in the more organized DTH business, customers do not get any such bill, and have to log into the customer care portal to check out the various items contained in their monthly subscription amount.
DTH has never needed monthly bills as it works on the prepaid recharge model, while cable TV worked on the billing model.
TRAI said its tests have found that cable operators are simply giving a cash memo saying they’ve received x amount from a user, instead of giving a printed and detailed bill.
TRAI also found cable operators who have not registered as tax payers under the GST system collecting GST amount from consumers.
These cable operators, who buy their feeds from providers like IndusInd Media, Den Networks, Hathway and GTPL, do not deposit the collected tax with the government, TRAI said in its notice.
TRAI asked the feed providers to ensure that their business partners deposited the tax collected.
Another huge pain point for cable TV customers has been modifying their channel packs.
TRAI said Den Networks and GTPL KCBPL do not offer the facility of changing subscription packs and channels on their customer care portal.
The regulator asked all the above cable companies to fix the problems that have been pointed out and report back by Tuesday.