In a move that should relieve frustrated direct-to-home customers, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has ruled that service providers must give prior notice to their subscribers before making any changes in price or composition of their subscription package.
This is part of several new clauses in the amended quality of services and redressal of grievances regulations for DTH operators announced by TRAI yesterday.
Currently, all DTH operators are guilty of chopping and changing channels as it suits them, often depriving consumers of channels to which they have already subscribed and paid for in the original package.
Under the new regulations, DTH operators cannot charge a fee for repair and maintenance of equipment purchased by the consumer during the period of warranty. This does not apply if the consumer has rented the equipment from the service provider.
"The service provider also cannot remove a channel in DTH viewers' subscription packages during the first six months of enrolment or during the period of validity of a prepaid subscription package, whichever is longer," the regulator said in a statement.
If a DTH operator does remove a channel from an existing package it would have to proportionately reduce the monthly subscription fee, or offer another channel of the same genre or language as a replacement for the channel that has been removed from the package.
However, it would be the customer's prerogative to either opt for the new package or for the reduced rate.
DTH operators must also entertain subscribers' requests for suspension of services if the requested period of suspension does not exceed three calendar months and does not comprise part of a calendar month.
Most DTH service providers have been in disputes with one or more broadcaster over the price at which the channels are offered to them. Often channels are removed from the DTH bouquet without any intimation to the consumer who has subscribed to that package.
Last year Tata Sky and ESPN Star Sports were battling over their financial agreement and the former had blocked ESPN from its basic package during the Wimbledon Open tennis championship, unconcerned about the protests by sports fans.
The DTH segment has grown rapidly, expanding from two DTH operators excluding Doordarshan in 2007 to five operators and 11 million subscribers today. The regulator has introduced the new guidelines keeping in view increased competition and the rise in the number of subscribers.