In a move that would be welcomed by most television watchers across the country, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is looking at making set-top boxes (STBs) inter-operable, allowing users to change their DTH or cable TV service provider without changing the digital box.
Cable television providers and direct-to-home (DTH) players have expressed doubts about the technical viability of such a system. But Trai feels otherwise. "We are working on introducing inter-operability on set-top boxes. The idea is to make them more like a telecom device," Trai chairman Ram Sewak Sharma told The Times of India.
The regulator had earlier paved the way for `commercial inter-operability' for digital boxes, which mandates transparency in installation and activation charges, and orders service providers to lay down a buyback plan in case of a disconnection. But the boxes still needed to be changed.
At present, consumers have to worry about the hassle of changing the digital set-top box when changing an operator. The same issue also arises when one changes a cable TV provider.
Trai chief R S Sharma has said the regulator is looking at defining standards for STBs so that changing a service provider for accessing TV content should be the same as changing a telecom operator by just changing your SIM card.
"Why should a multi-system operator or a local cable operator supply the digital boxes? The model we are considering is the same as in telecom where the phone is a commodity and content providers can connect with the device through a SIM card," he said.
Sharma said the regulator would set standards that will end the monopoly of a service provider on the STBs. "We will set up standards so that the STBs are not tied to a provider. It should be the same philosophy as it exists in the telecom sector," he said. "The STB should be de-coupled from the service provider."
The Trai chief said that work has already begun on making the digital boxes inter-operable."We will consult the stakeholders on this matter."
Jawahar Goel, managing director of Dish TV, said while commercial inter-operability is being practised, it is technically not possible to have common boxes for various service providers. "This is possible when there is a two-way communication like in a mobile handset. Our business is a one-way technology. A mobile handset and an STB are different technologies."
Vikki Choudhry, who heads the Home Digital network, said, "It is technically not possible and does not happen anywhere across the world. If there is inter-operability, it will result in breach of content security."