Free-to-Air channels on DD Free Dish spark dispute at TRAI meeting

Stakeholders argued that Prasar Bharti, as a service provider under the TRAI Act, 1997, should adhere to all regulations and orders issued by the authority.

By  Storyboard18Apr 18, 2024 4:24 PM
Free-to-Air channels on DD Free Dish spark dispute at TRAI meeting
DD Free Dish, India's free-to-air direct-to-home service has a reach of about 43-45 million households(Representative Image: Jonas Leupe via Unsplash)

Stakeholders expressed discontent with the operation of free-to-air (FTA) channels on Prasar Bharti's DD Free Dish platform during an open house discussion held by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Thursday.

The discussion, which revolved around TRAI's August 2023 Consultation Paperer on ‘Review of Regulatory Framework for Broadcasting and Cable services’, saw concerns raised about a potential imbalance in the playing field.

Stakeholders pointed out that certain channels designated as pay channels by broadcasters are being offered as FTA on DD Free Dish.

This practice, according to some DPOs (Distribution Platform Operators), creates an unfair advantage for DD Free Dish compared to other platforms.

They argue that Prasar Bharti, as a service provider under the TRAI Act, 1997, should adhere to all regulations and orders issued by the authority.

The issue highlights the ongoing debate surrounding the regulation of FTA channels on DD Free Dish.

The consultation paper had raised three questions on the matter.

1. Should Tariff Order 2017, Interconnection Regulations 2017 and Quality of Service Regulations 2017 be made applicable to non- addressable distribution platforms such as DD Free Dish also?

2. Should the channels available on DD Free Dish platform be mandatorily made available as Free to Air Channels for all the platforms including all the DPOs?

3. Whether there is a need to consider upgradation of DD Free Dish as an addressable platform?

“DD Free Dish has acknowledged themselves as DTH operators. Moreover, if TDSAT (Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal) has determined them as licensees and DTH operators, they cannot be exempted from the law,” said Girish Buttan, Head of Legal at SITI Networks.

Many others agreed.

Like the News Broadcasters and Digital Association(NBDA) had said in their comments, “Carriage Fees and its capping under Tariff Order 2017 and Interconnection Regulations 2017 only should be applicable to the non-addressable distribution platform DD Free Dish. Also, the Quality of Service Regulations 2017 should also be made applicable to the non-addressable distribution platform DD Free Dish in its entirety in order that the objective of the Prasar Bharati (Broadcasting Corporation of India) Act, 1990 (‘Prasar Bharati Act’) be achieved.”

Another industry veteran Rajiv Khattar, said, “If DD Free Dish continues to grow without adhering to the regulations applied to paid channels, it risks undermining broadcasters' subscription revenue. A balanced revenue system shouldn't rely solely on ad revenues. If subscription revenue declines, broadcasters may raise bouquet prices to compensate, making paid channels costlier and prompting consumers to switch permanently to DD Free Dish. This imbalance isn't ideal. Additionally, all channels on DD Free Dish should be encrypted to ensure accurate measurement, aligning them with paid channels." `

Some stakeholders offered a different perspective.

Gopal Ratnam, the Secretary of Consumer Care Society said, "On one hand, we advocate for deregulation and self-regulation, while on the other, we call for regulation of DD Free Dish. This presents a contradictory situation. From a consumer standpoint, people should have the freedom to choose. They can opt for free channels with potentially lower quality or choose paid channels for better quality, provided they can afford it. This competitive model is seen in various sectors, such as healthcare, where competition should focus on the quality of services.”

Prasar Bharati started the DTH service of DDDirect+ inDecember 2004, which was re-named as DD Free Dish on 27th August 2013. Initially the coverage of DD Free Dish was confined to Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttaranchal, North East Region and Gujarat i.e., where the percentage of TV broadcasting services coverage was below national average.

At present, coverage of DD Free Dish services is throughout the Indian territory except Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Prasar Bharati does not charge any monthly or annual subscription fee from viewers for viewing DD Free Dish service. For availing DD Free Dish services, one requires only a small one-time investment in purchasing of Dish Receive System containing Set-Top-Box and small sized dish antenna.


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First Published on Apr 18, 2024 4:22 PM

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