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Cable operators fleece clueless set-top-box customers

KOLKATA: Have you ever imagined how life would be without television? The very thought can spoil your mood. Television has become an inseparable part of lives and that is exactly what cable operators are taking advantage of.

The transition process of the cable television regime from analog to digital has been full of glitches and anything but transparent. To top it, the rates of set-top-boxes (STB) haven’t been standardized. While in some areas of the city operators are asking for Rs 600 per STB, in others they are asking for double the price. Perplexed customers are wondering if an STB would be the ideal choice or a direct-to-home (DTH) service would be better.

Madhu Sardar, a resident of Rammoy Road in Bhowanipore, said his cable operator is asking for Rs 800 to install the STB, but has hinted that the post-installation monthly rental will increase from Rs 200 to Rs 300. “It is indeed very confusing. If this confusion continues, I will opt for DTH,” he said. Sarkar subscribes to Siti Cable.

The information and broadcasting ministry has recently decided to extend the date of digitization rollout from July 1, 2012 to November 1, 2012. All the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) rules for digital addressable system (DAS) will come into effect from November 1, 2012.

Kolkata Police has given strict instructions to the multi-service operators (MSO) that they should be transparent about the rates and stocks of STBs so that the end customers are not harassed by cable operators.

Debrata Bandyopadhyay of Bagbazar relayed an even queerer tale. “We have three rates prevailing in our area. Our cable operator said they can install STBs at Rs 600, Rs 800 or Rs 1,500,” he quipped. To avoid any post-installation problems, Bandyopadhyay opted for the Rs 1,500 variety, which comes with a three-year guarantee, replacement in case the machine develops a problem. In case of the Rs 600 variety, the monthly rental is supposed to increase.

All these transactions, however, are done without a receipt. In places like Howrah (west) and Uttarpara, cable operators are charging Rs 600 for an STB whereas in Sodepur, it is Rs 1,000.

Asked about these transactions, Siti Cable director Suresh Sethia said: “Cable operators should not be charging higher prices for STBs. Siti Cable is charging between Rs 800 and 850 (taking into account rupee depreciation) per STB. Cable operators should also provide bills against every transaction,” he said.

Sudip Ghosh, the director of another MSO in the city, Manthan, said their STBs cost around Rs 799. Manthan caters to around 30-32% of KMDA area. Out of that, STBs have already been installed in 65% to 70% of households, he claimed. In KMC area, Manthan has 38-40% presence. “We ask all our cable operators to get the Subscriber Activation Form filled up by the consumer. It has three copies. One lies with us (MSOs), one with local cable operators and another copy with the consumers. This is a must,” he asserted.

H S Saggu of Chakraberia Road (North), who has a Manthan connection, said his cable operator had initially asked for Rs 800, but now is asking for Rs 1,000. He is in two minds over whether to avail the facility.

Both Sethia and Ghosh said Siti Cable and Manthan respectively were coming up with websites for consumer redress and they would also have a toll-free number to take complaints from consumers.

“We will soon start running consumer awareness programmes on our local channels,” said Ghosh. Asked how they planned to address the complaints, Sethia said at first the customer care department would try to address the problems. If they failed, the nodal officer would take charge. The TRAI has directed every MSO to appoint one nodal officer for consumer redress. Otherwise, consumers are free to knock at the door of the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal ( TDSAT).

All the MSOs in the city have so far been able to give STBs to 40% of the population. These STBs are shipped from China. Each shipment comes with 20,000-25,000 STBs. According to estimation done by operators and DTH players, there will be requirement of around 30-35 lakh STBs in Kolkata. There are around 10,000 cable operators in the city and 15 MSOs in West Bengal.

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