Aurora Magazine

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The cable conundrum

Updated 24 Nov, 2016 03:44pm
Will the introduction of DTH licences put an end to cable services?

At first I thought I would do a balanced ‘piece’ on the current tussle between the cable operators and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA). Then I thought what the heck! I am a consumer and a paying one at that and I am LIVID at being denied the service I paid for.

I pay my bill to the cable operator, regularly. In exchange don’t I have the right to receive service? Regularly? Well that is not what happened because the cable operators decided to slug it out with PEMRA - again! Just like they have been doing since 2002, when we first heard the word Direct to Home (DTH) licensing.

If I weren’t parked in Sindh (the last Province to pass the Consumer Rights Bill and hence still without Consumer Courts) I would have sued them for breach of contract; something all customers have a right to do. After all, neither the government nor PEMRA have shut them down. Why aren’t the cable operators fighting a legal fight instead of resorting to blackmail by depriving consumers of their rightful access to whatever content they provide?

Why are they giving the impression that there is an attempt to close down cable services through the introduction of DTH. Wasn’t DTH (through illegal set top boxes) already operating in Pakistan? How come they never protested about that? And what is with media bodies like the Pakistan Broadcasting Authority taking issue with DTH, as though they are a consultative body that needs a buy in? Yet, they took a huge ad against the move. Why haven’t we seen any such ads about illegal content before? Or illegal channels? Or, when recently, FM radio licenses were auctioned? How has their tail been stepped on?

As someone who has followed the way PEMRA has evolved, I am aware of the various reasons why DTH licensing has been postponed. At every expiry of each grace period (stretching over five years), during which the cable operators were required to convert their technology from analogue to digital, they demanded another extension. But 14 years is a lifetime.

I as a consumer have a right to access the content of my choice and with the best available technology. LEGALLY. And in a way so that it is my country’s treasury which benefits instead of the pockets of those involved in the illegal content business. That too on obsolete technology.

It is ironic that because the world has moved on to IPTV and Chromecast, some people are criticising PEMRA for opting for DTH. This conversation started in 2002, but was stymied by the cable operators. And now they are promoting the argument that DTH means the end of cable. Nothing could be further from the truth. In all the countries where there is DTH, including US, Germany, other European countries, Australia and India, market penetration of DTH does not exceed 40%; the rest is with digital cable. What needs to be euthanized is the analogue technology to make way for digital.

Cable will remain economically available. The only difference is that the pockets of the big media houses and their cable operators will not be lined and the taxes and levies will go to the government treasury. For far too long, far too many people have enjoyed freebies.

This is essentially what needs to happen and PEMRA must pay attention to the rights of consumer instead of being browbeaten by pressure tactics.

We all need to act as citizen watchdogs of government organisations such as PEMRA. If allegations of favouritism in the grant of licenses are made, they need to be substantiated. Keep an eye on the vetting process. Check up the antecedents of the bidders. They are listed companies. They are not contravening the law by joint ventures with foreign companies.

Stop cooking up conspiracy theories. Even Indian companies can apply for a licence if they have less than a 50% stake, IF THEY GET SECURITY CLEARANCE!

Raise questions on the integrity of the people involved in the licensing process. The due diligence is done by a board that includes members from the FIA, the Intelligence agencies as well as the media and regulatory experts.

PEMRA deserves criticism for not acting as a licensing agency (its primary function). What addition have they made to the country’s coffers? How many new channels have been granted licenses? Why must a big fish eat small fish environment prevail? Now that this is hopefully changing, and there needs to be a push back to the forces who want to maintain the status quo.

As a consumer, I demand better choice, better technology and security in the knowledge that service I am paying for will not be withdrawn without reason. Once again a game of ping pong is going on in the courts on the DTH issue. Without commenting on that, I just want to stress that my rights as a consumer need to be safeguarded.