Set-top box ownership is the bone of contention

Sharath S. Srivatsa
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Just as the deadline to install set-top boxes (STPs) is fast approaching, multi-service operators (MSOs) and cable TV operators are still at odds over the tricky issue of the ownership of the box.

Confusion reigns with the MSOs insisting that the ownership would remain with the customer, while cable operators claim the issue to have remained unresolved.

“We don’t have clarity over who owns the box and we have also not given any commitment to exchange the box if the customer wants. In most cases, we are also unable to give the bill for the box as the MSOs, which are distributing them, are not giving us any bill. All that is given is the activation bill,” V.S. Patrick Raju, president, Karnataka Cable TV Operators Association, told The Hindu . He, however, said bills are being given to customers who are serviced directly by the MSOs.

Not portable

Ownership assumes importance in the light of the customer paying for it — anything between Rs.1,200 and Rs.1,500 depending on the area. The issue becomes tricky when customer (especially tenants) move out of an area. “Since set-top boxes are encrypted for software of a particular MSO, it becomes redundant if the area to which the customer moves to is serviced by a different MSO,” Mr. Raju said.

Though cable operators are non-committal over the exchange, many have orally told customers that the STPs will be taken back after calculating the depreciation and its condition, giving room for conflict. They have even offered a warranty period between six months and one year. “There is no agreement between the cable operators and customers and yardstick to calculate. The cost will be decided by the operator and we will be at his mercy,” said Kaushik P., a resident in C.V. Raman Nagar.

In some areas, cable operators also are claiming ownership of the box though it is the customer who pays for it. “We are collecting the money since all of us are making huge investments for the boxes. If those in rented premises vacate and move out with the set-top box, we will have to incur losses,” argued a cable operator in Ullal area.

Countering these arguments, V.K. Somasekhar, managing trustee of Grahak Shakti, said: “Confusion is being caused deliberately by MSOs and cable operators to scuttle the digitisation move. Both of them are not transparent and are opposed to digitisation.”

He, however, said that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India should provide relief to customers who may get affected due to migration.




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