Tata Sky, a premium satellite TV provider in India, has unveiled a scheme by which heavy customers can bring down their monthly network fee by up to Rs 300.
However, to get the lower network charge — also known as network capacity fee or NCF — a subscriber must buy some television channels picked by Tata Sky in addition to the channels and packs he or she wants.
For example, under the current scheme, a subscriber who has purchased 40 HD channels and 100 SD channels pays Rs 245 per month as monthly network charges (Rs 153 plus Rs 23×4).
However, if he or she also purchases the ‘Hindi HD Lite’ pack, his monthly network charge will be capped at just Rs 99, no matter how many channels he activates. That person can subscribe to 500 channels and still pay only Rs 99 as the monthly network charge (see image on top).
These special packs — which allow customers to have a fixed monthly charge — are called ‘Lite’ packs. By using them, heavy consumers can reduce their monthly Tata Sky bill by up to Rs 300 per month.
Such packs have been unveiled for most language markets.
For example, those interested in Bengali channels can have their monthly network fee capped at Rs 131.50, including tax, if they activate Tata Sky’s Bengali Lite pack in addition to all the other channels and packs that they want.
Similarly, those interested in Tamil channels can bring down their monthly network charge to Rs 114 if they activate the Tamil Lite pack in addition to their regular channels.
However, it should be kept in mind that even as the monthly network charge is brought down by activating these Lite packs, the consumer will also see an increase in the pay channel cost, as the Lite packs come with pay channel charges.
For example, the Tamil Lite pack will increase the montly pay channel charges by Rs 85 per month, while the Telugu Lite pack will increase it by Rs 74 per month.
However, this increase can be offset by not subscribing separately to the pay channels contained in these Lite packs. For example, the Tamil Lite pack already comes with channels such as Sun TV, KTV, Vijay Super, Colors Tamil and so on.
So, if a subscriber activates the Tata Sky Tamil Lite pack, he or she can avoid buying the above channels separately — thus saving on pay channel costs and helping to recoup some of the money spent for activating the Lite pack.
NETWORK NEUTRALITY ISSUES
Even as Tata Sky has launched the new scheme of giving discounts to customers who opt for its own packs — instead of broadcaster packs or a la carte — it remains to be seen if the move will pass TRAI’s smell test due to ‘network neutrality’ issues.
This is because, under TRAI’s new tariff order, the network charge has to be the same for all channels, and cannot be made different for any channel or set of channels.
For example, paragraph 81 of the explanatory memorandum in TRAI’s tariff order notes:
“Distributors of television channels are free to fix Network Capacity Fee below this ceiling. However, the Network Capacity Fee will be agnostic to the type of the channel carried over the network. It cannot vary based on the channels subscribed by a subscriber.”
As such, it remains to be seen if TRAI will raise a stink over Tata Sky’s move to have a separate, lower network capacity fee exclusively for those who activate channels handpicked by it, while denying the same to those who make their own packs instead of activating Tata Sky packs.
Over the past weeks, the regulator has been sending letter after letter to cable and DTH providers pointing out various violations in the way they have implemented the new tariff order, and asking them to rectify them quickly.
In this connection, TRAI noted in its consultation paper last month that many DTH and cable operators have asked for permission to charge differential network charges based on various factors such as location, income level of the market, number of channels subscribed and so on.
For now, Tata Sky seems to be the only major distributor who has actually implemented such a scheme of differential network charges.
Others, like Dish TV and Airtel Digital, do offer discounted network charges, but only on multiple connections. TRAI has already clarified that giving NCF discounts on multiple connections is fine in its books.