Malaysians are gullible enough to be taken for a long ride by Astro, as the government has given Astro too much leeway. This has caused Malaysian TV viewers to be short-changed and at the same time other operators have been snuffed out from entering the market and providing better service.
Such a phenomenon is only seen in Malaysia, with only one pay TV operator given exclusive licence for 20 years.
The scenario is different in other countries where viewers have a few operators offering programs at lower rates:
In India and Indonesia there are six pay TV operators, and Australia has three.
The pricing is another factor. In India there are operators that offer up to 155 channels for as low as RM9.17.
In contrast Astro is offering the cheapest package at RM64.61 which includes a family package and a choice of 3 mini packages which adds up to about 50 channels. There are 33 channels in the family package but 6 of them are free-to-air channels like TV1 to TV9.
The combination of channels in the family package is such that only a small number of channels is likely to be of interest to any particular demographic. So the subscribers are made to pay for channels that may not be of interest to them.
The free-to-air channels are fed through the Astro decoder. When service is disrupted owing to rain fade, even these channels will not be available to the viewers.
Rain fade has been a frequent complaint of subscribers. In 2008, Astro was assuring subscribers that after the migration from Measat 2 Satelite to Measat 3, this problem would be reduced by 30 percent, but there seems to be no such improvement.
Astro is supplying a newly designed dish free for HD B.yond subscribers. In actual fact subscribers are made to fork out extra RM20 monthly on top of the installation charges and other charges.
However, the high definition reception is still available though the old standard dish. The new dish was originally intended to reduce rain fade problem. Astro should change to the new dish for all existing subscribers free, since subscribers are denied of service during rain.
High definition reception is available only for a limited number of channels. When more channels are available in high definition later on Astro will likely increase the charges further.
Moreover, Astro controls the market for pay TV equipment and accessories. The subscribers should be allowed to purchase such equipment in the free market and use them as long as those equipment conform to Malaysian standards and are certified by SIRIM-MCMC. Why is Astro enjoying a monopoly even in the sale of equipment and accessories?
For Astro subscribers it is nothing but pay, pay and pay for everything from the day of installation and even when they decide for early termination. Late payment charges, reinstallation charges and servicing charges add on.
As if that is not enough, the channels are repackaged almost every two years once and priced higher, leaving many poor viewers in a fix. Effective from 11 July 2011 another price adjustment and repackaging is expected to come into force.
After collecting all these charges Astro goes on with commercial advertisements which are purposely slotted in to interrupt the program during the middle of a show. This is very annoying and definitely short-changing pay-TV viewers.
Astro was given exclusive licence for 20 years till 2017 and has been reluctant to migrate to the Communication and Multimedia Act 1998, even though pressured by the Ministry to do so.
Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) calls for the following changes:
The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) is helping the business community like Astro instead of helping the poor public. As the regulators they should be doing more to ensure the public is not exploited.
Instead of increasing prices, Astro should consider changing the assortment of channels in the family package and splitting it into smaller packages to make it more affordable. As the viewership has reached three million households, Astro should be able to accommodate the reduction in pricing;
The government should encourage new pay-TV operators and allow TV accessories to be sold in the free market like in other countries;
The dish should be made lighter using lighter material, for easy transportation.
SM Mohamed Idris is president of Consumers’ Association of Penang