Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Broadcasting: Interoperability of STBs not viable, say manufacturers

News from Business Line

Consumer Electronics and TV Manufacturers' Association (CETMA) has told TRAI that it is not viable to produce set top boxes, used in CAS, to be interoperable across different operators. Attempt to make them interoperable will double the cost of the boxes, says CETMA. CETMA's contention is also that making such boxes interoperable will increase piracy and copyright violation.

TRAI has referred the matter to the Bureau of Indian Standards, to examine whether the interoperability is viable or not.

As of now, CAS has been implemented only in Chennai. The cost of the set top box is high - as much as Rs. 3,500. There are two Multi-System Operators (MSOs) in Chennai offering CAS, one of the companies - Sumangali Cable Vision (SCV), is owned in part by the current Minister for IT & Telecom Dayanidhi Maran. A third option is also available, but via Direct-to-home satellite - from Zee group company called DishTV.

The MSOs purchase the set-top boxes from the consumer electronics companies in India or outside India. From the set-top box I have at home (supplied by SCV), it seems that the technology is owned by a dutch company (Irdeto Access), and the hardware manufactured by a Chinese company (Coship).

Consumers face a major problem because of lack of interoperability. If I purchase an STB, and then am transferred from the city, my STB won't work in the new city where the MSO may use an entirely different platform. Another problem is, I have no recourse against poor quality of service from one operator (amongst the duopoly!), and if I have to switch to another operator, I am expected to cough up more money for another STB.

It seems funny that the CETMA is raising the bogey of copyright violation and piracy. I am assuming by piracy they are talking about people making unauthorised STBs and access cards and break into pay-tv signals. I don't think it is CETMA's job to worry about this. The MSOs and broadcasters will have to worry about this.

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