July 2017

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Q: Cable TV digitization is almost completed in India. But is that valid for Hotels where only Limited Channels are required for Guest?

Is a STB compulsory at the viewer’s end?

I have observed that some Hotels have installed Digital Headends delivering Digital TV but no STB is used.

Many hotels also provide their guests, FTA & Pay Channels through Airtel STBs.

Does this violate any TRAI rule? Kindly clarify.

By E-Mail from Bangalore,
Name & Company Name Withheld On Request.

ANS: You have posed an interesting query. There are some grey areas and therefore it is important to understand the overall current situation.

1. In 2013, hotels had contended that broadcasters were charging exorbitant commercial rates from Star Hotels. This in turn had led to the TRAI's revised tariff order in 2014, which declared that (3 Star & above) hotels will be considered domestic consumers for cable TV rentals, unless the hotel specifically benefits commercially for the cable TV service provided by the hotel. Hence, if the hotel separately bills cable TV services to the room guests, only then can the hotel be charged separate commercial tariffs. (The commercial tariff is to be decided at a mutually agreeable level between the broadcaster and the hotel). Also for e.g. if the hotel exhibits a sports event at a bar and charges an entry fee for viewing that sports event at the bar, it would also be liable for commercial tariffs.

However, if the hotel provides cable TV as a bundled facility like air conditioning, hot water etc. then the hotel is liable to pay the broadcaster only the domestic tariff that is charged from local consumers.

This tariff order has been challenged in court by broadcasters including Star India. The court has admitted the case but has not stayed the TRAI's tariff order hence the TRAI's tariff order is to be implemented, unless and until the court overturns it.

2. Hotels are required to obtain their signals directly from the DPO (Digital Platform Operator) and not from the local LCO.

3. Most hotels do not bill cable TV services separately and therefore are liable to pay only domestic tariffs to the broadcasters for their rooms. Hence, many hotels have obtained DTH STB's and either:

a. Placed a DTH STB in each hotel room. Domestic subscriptions are paid per DTH STB. Or

b. Some hotels which have installed their own local Headends, have installed multiple DTH STBs at their local headend and distributed the signal, either encrypted or FTA to each of their hotel rooms.

Market reports indicate that certain DTH platforms such as TATA Sky have objected to their STBs being used in Option 3b above. They are however agreeable to Option 3a.

Feedback to us indicates that certain DTH platforms such as Dish TV and Airtel are agreeable even to Option 3b, particularly where the number of hotel rooms is large.

In both options 3a and 3b, the hotel renews the STB subscriptions at domestic tariff rates only.

4. Regarding your query on whether STBs must be placed in the hotel room only, the TRAI order refers to the placement of IRDs/STBs "In The Designated Areas."

We have been told that the TRAI's informal stand is that the TRAI has no objection to the STBs being located in the hotels headend rather than inside the rooms, if the broadcasters agree to this arrangement.

Also, an STB is not the only method for encrypted signals. Encrypted signals could be decoded directly within the TV set itself or even IPTV signals could be encrypted and delivered directly to a TV set without an STB. Samsung and LG have their own encryption system which can be built into their TV sets.

As you will see from the above there are a few grey areas & since the matter is pending in court, different parties have maintained different stands. A court judgement will provide the final word.


Q: I would appreciate your valuable advice on a strange phenomenon experienced by our channel (channel name withheld -Ed) at some areas in a digital cable tv service in Kerala.

It is seen that our channel alone gets 'frozen' at some particular areas. No other channels are seen to be affected on the same STB.

When channel freezing is observed at a particular place, no such issue is observed at other areas where the same cable tv head end signals are being provided.

What might be the reasons why only our channel alone is affected, and that too, in some particular area alone?

Please advice on how to resolve this strange phenomenon.

Sreejith R L, Manager,
Vanchiyoor, Trivandrum

ANS: Regarding your query, allow me to explain:

1. Digital TV signals are usually carried grouped together in different "Transport Streams" (TS). Each Transport Stream will carry multiple Digital TV channels. Also, each Transport Stream is carried at a different frequency. Hence the transport Stream carrying your Mathrubhumi News TV channel, will also be carrying several other (5 to 15 or even more) TV channels.

2. Transport Streams are carried using 64 QAM, 256 QAM or sometimes even 512 QAM modulation. MSO Headend will always send out multiple transport streams. Often some transport streams may be at 64 QAM and other transport streams at 256 QAM.

3. 256 QAM transport streams can get corrupted during transmission more easily than 64 QAM transport streams.

4. If your channel is carried on a 256 QAM transport stream, it is why you observe that your channel often freezes, compared to other channels which are on a 64 QAM transport Stream.

5. However, all other channels in your transport stream will also be corrupted / not transmitted well. It is not possible that Mathrubhumi is the only channel being corrupted. Find out from the MSO which other channels share your transport stream and you will observe that all those channels will also have problems.

6. Sometimes even a 64 QAM transport stream will get corrupted if there is strong terrestrial interference at that Transport Stream's frequency.

Since Analog Cable TV Is Shut Off, There Is Enough Bandwidth To Carry All Digital Channels in 64 QAM, To Ensure Good Transmission, Even On Poor Quality Cable TV Networks.

7. Your solution would be:

a. Get your Channel shifted to a 64 QAM Transport Stream.

b. If it is already on a 64 QAM TS, get it shifted to another TS at a different frequency.

c. Request the MSO to discontinue the 256 QAM TS and change it to a 64 QAM TS. Now that analog cable TV has been discontinued, there is more than enough bandwidth to carry all Digital channels in 64 QAM, thus ensuring good transmission, even on poor quality Cable TV networks.

d. Ask the faulty LCO network to upgrade their distribution plant, so that your signals reach the consumer well.

Dish Doctor
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