India’s direct to home (DTH) set top boxes (STB) should become technically and commercially interoperable according to the terms of the operator’s broadcast license, the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has ruled.

Responding to a Tamil Nadu Progressive Consumer Centre petition opposing proprietary STB hardware, TDSAT has directed the Union government to mandate the Bureau of Indian Standards to lay down standards for MPEG-4 technology within two months, according to The Hindu.

TDSAT said by setting MPEG-4 as India’s set top box (STB) standard, consumers would be granted freedom to receive another MPEG-2 based DTH bouquet by inserting a CAM module in their existing MPEG-4 STB’s common interface slot, rather than having to buy another STB. MPEG-2 boxes, however, cannot be adapted to decode MPEG-4 signals, so did not represent a feasible option for standardisation.

In its petition, the Chennai-based consumer group highlighted the lack of STB interoperability, stating this violated clause 7.1 of DTH licensing conditions, which require open architecture.

“Our enquiry has revealed that non-interoperability is not only an unethical business practice but a gross violation of the terms and conditions of their own licences issued by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and contravention of the Quality of Service Regulations of TRAI [Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India],” said the Tamil Nadu Progressive Consumer Centre.

The centre’s petition also raised the environmental dilemma of discarded non-biodegradable electronic junk when STBs are replaced solely in order to switch between DTH platforms.

In response, TDSAT said “the question of interoperability and in particular, the provisions relating to technical interoperability have not been complied with.”

The tribunal’s order concluded: “The law cannot ordinarily be permitted to remain only on paper. If it involves the interest of consumers, it should be implemented.”

TDSAT stated that non-compliance with the provision of technical interoperability warranted intervention from TRAI and the Union government. The order calls on TRAI to convene a consultation with recommendations to follow within six weeks, so that the government could pass relevant orders in two months’ time.