Starting December 1, the country's 3.2 million Direct-to-Home subscribers will be able to ask for refunds on DTH equipment (the set-top box and antenna) if they choose to discontinue the service.
This is one of several key directives issued by industry regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to ensure subscribers quality of service.
The move will provide customers with the flexibility to choose between competing DTH platforms, especially with more players entering the fray.
Tata Sky has one million subscribers and Dish TV 2.2 million. Recently, licenses for DTH services have also been given to Sun TV Ltd (Sun Direct), Reliance Blue Magic and Bharti Telemedia.
The new regulations will be called the 'Direct to Home Broadcasting Services (Standards of Quality of Service and Redressal of Grievances) Regulation, 2007' and will cover regulatory provisions protecting DTH subscribers.
DTH companies will also have to mandatorily offer subscribers a choice between outright purchase of DTH equipment and a rental scheme on roughly the same line as TV homes that subscribe to conditional access system services.
To ensure that subscriber viewing is not interrupted Trai has directed that no DTH operator can discontinue any of its channels without prior information to subscribers.
DTH operators will also be de-barred from disabling the set top box if its subscriber has delayed payment or opted out of the service.
"This will enable the DTH subscriber to use the box to receive other free-to-air channels," says the Trai provision.
Also, the regulator has said DTH companies will not be allowed to change the pricing of the subscription package offered to a subscriber for six months. However, subscribers could opt out of a particular package for any other package at any time.
Under the new regulations, DTH operators will have to establish call centres with a sufficient number of telephone lines with toll-free numbers, so that benchmarks on response times are met.
Each request or complaint to a call centre has to be assigned a docket number and 90 per cent of complaints on non-receipt of signals will have to be redressed within 24 hours.
"No complaint can be pending beyond 5 days and all billing complaints will have to be redressed by the DTH companies within seven days," the new regulations say.
The move to refund subscribers money is likely to increase the financial burden on DTH companies, which already provide a subsidy of Rs 700-1,500 per set-top box to its subscribers. Subscribers pay between Rs 3,000 and Rs 4,000 for the DTH hardware pack.
Executives of both Tata Sky and Dish TV have raised reservations on refunding money to subscribers who discontinue the service.
A senior Dish TV executive on conditions of anonymity said: "This is a welcome move for the industry, and we have been following a number of these provisions. But we wanted Trai to also look at incentivising us financially by advocating the removal of value added tax, which it has ignored."