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Help DTH companies hide ‘outage’ problem when selling service
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In the second set of the French Open women's final, Na Li of China fumbled after being in complete control through the first set against Francesca Schiavone of Italy who snatched a 2-0 lead. As the match was heating up, the television screen suddenly turned blue.

Anil Patil (name changed) was left fuming as his Tata Sky connection went blank due to rain showers. "I couldn't watch this very interesting match in which Li beat the defending champion Francesca Schiavone 6-4 7-6(0), as the connection went on and off repeatedly. Li became the first Asian woman to win the grand slam and it's such a pity that I couldn't watch the entire match."

Gaurav Pramanik, another subscriber of Tata Sky, was watching an interesting debate on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on BBC, when his connection also went off, again due to the rain. "It happens all the time during the rain. If I couldn't watch it live then what is the use?"

Numerous such complaints by people who have subscribed to the direct-to-home (DTH) service reveal that services are commonly down when it rains. Even cloud cover can disrupt the television link. The Internet is crowded with these complaints. Many of these grievances are recorded on www.consumercomplaints.in and www.mouthshut.com.

But while the disruption of service due to the rain is a common phenomenon, it seems that companies promoting their DTH services hide this problem from customers at the time of booking a connection.

Tata Sky's website says, "A few minutes of outage might occur during the rains. This phenomenon is called Rain Outage and happens with DTH platforms across the world. It will result in your television losing reception for some time. We have tried to cut down this time so it might happen only for one or two minutes in a year. This too is automatically detected and gets corrected by itself."

Sun Direct follows suit: "Though provision exists in the uplink system to take care of fading of the signal due to rains, yet heavy rains may result in outage for a few minutes in the DTH signal." DishTV makes a similar claim in the FAQ section on its website.

However, the reality is quite different. Firstly, when you shop on the phone or visit the nearest shop, you are not informed about this 'outage'. Secondly, most of the times services get disrupted for hours on end, while you are left sulking, for not being able to watch your favourite soap or talk show that you must religiously."

Now, some DTH subscribers are going back to the local cable connection due to such problems, which also include visual clarity.

Describing why he switched from Tata Sky back to the set-top box from the cable operator, a senior journalist who requested anonymity said, "During inclement weather conditions I had some problems with the quality of reception from my satellite connection, which is not the case with my cable set-top box. Though customer service was always prompt from Tata Sky's end, I preferred a more pragmatic approach. Again, during the Japanese tsunami, I could tune in to NHK-1 to watch the events unfold live. Tata Sky might have given me this channel, but I would have had to fork out around Rs50 extra (at least) to view the same."

Mariam George, another DTH cutomer who switched to Incablenet because of the repeated interruption in service, said, "Even during moderate rain the connection would go off for hours on end. Two months back, despite no rains, the service didn't function properly for over a month, forcing me to switch my service provider."

She continued, "When I purchased Sun Direct, I wasn't warned about this outage. Despite paying, I was left with no choice but to wait for hours for the service to be re-started."

There are some who are quite satisfied with the DTH service. An insurance analyst residing in the Shivaji Park area says, "It has been more than a year that I took the DTH service and there has been no major problem. There is some interruption periodically during heavy rain, but it is only for a few minutes."

Customers are lured into buying the product with attractive packages and assurances, but the reality is totally different as is evident from the many dissatisfied customers.

Questions about the DTH service addressed to Tata Sky, Sun Direct and Dish TV by e-mail were not answered.

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