The government is reported to have given permission to various private companies to operate K-band based television distribution schemes under which the customers will be able to receive (for a fee) the television channel of their choice with a small dish antenna. The K-band as opposed to C and S bands needs only a small dish that can be hung out of one’s bedroom or living room window to receive the encrypted signals that are then fed to a decoding box that sends out the television signal to the television set.
The difference between the K-band and the other bands is that the K-band has a comparatively small footprint and can reach only a limited area. Those who operate the services have to lease the bandwidth from the satellite companies. This may not be a difficult proposition given the fact that the sky these days is full of satellites of one kind or the other, including spy satellites. This writer has no information as to just how many communication satellites there are in this part of the world catering to the needs of the companies that provide direct to home television services.
And because those permitted to operate the direct to home services will have to pay a substantial amount to use the satellite, it is a foregone conclusion that those wanting to operate the services do so not for any kind of social service or charity but purely with a profit motive. There are a number of buildings in the capital where one can see the small dish antennas being used to receive the direct to home services. These are illegal as they are mostly Indian-operated services and cannot be used legally in Nepal. But in these times of lawlessness, the government or other law enforcing agencies hardly have the time or the means - including financial means - to carry out surveillance on the use of foreign-based direct to home services.
The new operators will be competing with the cable television distributors who have been in the business for decades. The Kathmandu city proper was at one time almost entirely dominated by Space Time, founded by the late Jamim Shah. One of the main drawbacks of cable TV is that it disfigures the city because long lines of cable have to be pulled to various areas.
Nepal Telecom with its land line distribution cables and the large number of cable TVs along with the cable Internet have disfigured the city to a large extent. (One cannot but wonder how it is that the Kathmandu Municipality allows this kind of disfiguration without asking these operators to ensure that the cables are laid underground so that the aesthetic charm of the city remains unspoiled by cables hanging like cob-webs all across the city). That is one of the main drawbacks of the cable distributed television channels as indeed that of the cable Internet.
But high on the list of customer priority is which system is better? The cable TV or the direct to home? The choice depends on the television viewer whether he wants something that is of high quality or just an average quality. A television connoisseur would probably opt for a direct to home service which provides him or her with high quality audio and visual television.
In many homes these days, there is more than one television set, but in most homes there is just one cable line. So if the father watches a news channel, the mother on another set watches a soap, and their children would probably be enjoying some western style music on another TV set. All this is possible with just one cable connection for which just one subscription fee is paid.
If the signal becomes weak because of distribution to different sets in the same house, one probably takes recourse to signal boosters. There are many TV signal boosters in many homes so that the entire family members that subscribe to one cable network can watch different channel on different sets. This unfortunately may not be possible in direct to home broadcasts.
Though one dish may be enough, the operators would probably want us all to own different decoding sets (or set tops or whatever one calls them) in order to enable different TV sets to display different channels. And the operators will be charging additional fees for the use of additional decoding boxes. So if one wants to save money, the only way to do so is to watch the same channel on all the TV sets at home. That is going to be the biggest drawback of direct to home service.
Years ago when the now-defunct Shangri-la began distributing wireless-based television channels, in the initial period it used to be possible to change the channels through the television sets instead of having to use the decoder to change stations. But later this was rectified, and it was no longer possible to change television channels through the television sets; one had to use the decoder which meant that only one channel was possible at a time with one decoder.
In the case of the direct to home service, too, it may be possible to receive more than one channel at one time bypassing the use of the decoder, which would decode all channels allowing the television sets, instead of the decoder itself, to choose the channels. But that would simply not be in the interest of the service providers who would want to levy additional charges for different television sets. This again would not be in the interest of the customers.
Talking about the interest of the customers, the government must awake to the need to protect the interest of the cable and direct to home television customers. One pays to see television channels. One does not pay to see (and hear) advertisements. If the government really cares for the customers, it must ensure that no television channel aired through cable or direct to home networks carries advertisements because the customers do not pay to see them. Advertisements are fit only for free-to-air channels because these channels do not receive any funding from the viewers. The free-to-air channels have to depend on the advertisers to run their stations. It is, one would think, quite unjust to charge subscriptions from viewers and force them to watch materials that generate revenue for the stations.
Another point the government needs to look into is the way cable television - hopefully something that the newly licensed direct to home services will not replicate - treat Nepalese channels. They seem to broadcast or not broadcast certain channels based on personal or corporate rivalries rather than merits. The government would be doing the Nepalese customers a service if all the licensed cable operators (and indeed the proposed direct to home service providers) are made mandatory to include all Nepalese channels (most of which are free) in their list of aired channels.