DAP opposes Astro subscription rate increase and calls for deregulation and liberalization of broadcasting to allow for more television channels and pay television operators

Speech (Part 7)
in the debate on the Motion of Thanks for  the Royal Address
by Lim Kit Siang

(Dewan Rakyat, Thursday): The  Information Minister, Datuk Paduka Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir has to take three weeks to realize that the nation-wide furore over  Astro's RM5 subscription rate increase  warranted a study to be conducted for forwarding a report to the Cabinet.  

Astro's RM5 subscription rate increase was reported on 26 April 2004.  Malaysians are disheartened with ASTRO All Asia Networks Plc to raise pay-television rates this month.  The move to raise the subscription rates of RM5 might add RM83 million to ASTRO’s annual sales given its subscriber base of 1.39 million people at the end of January.


In my speech in this house eight years ago, I had said that the charges imposed by ASTRO for its digital broadcasting services were  exorbitant. At that time, the standard ASTRO package of up to 20 television channels was RM80 per month.


Over the years, ASTRO has increased to 46 television channels with subscription rate of  RM124.95 per month. This subscription rate was very much higher compared to other cable television operators offering their services in Asia. For example, the Taiwan’s Government Information Office allows cable television operators to retail basic program packages to consumers at up to NT$600 (RM67) per month. Most operators typically offer 80-channel packages at between NT$500-NT$560 per month, including channels that typically appear on expanded basic and premium packages in major global cable & satellite television markets.


The population of Taiwan is about 23 million which is similar to Malaysia. If  their cable operators can offer the price below RM67 per month for 80 television channels, Why Malaysians must pay more?


The  move to raise an extra RM5 on top of all subscription rates of ASTRO package is totally unacceptable. Futhermore, ASTRO has exceeded its earlier forecast by posting a profit after tax of RM12.3mil in the financial year ended Jan 31, 2004.


The media has reported that our neighbouring Brunei regarded the RM5 subscription rate increase as a good news for them. ASTRO has embarked on an aggressive push to attract more viewers in Malaysia and Brunei to the channels it shows through its pay-television services. However, a spokesman of Kristal-Astro, the local Astro services provider in Brunei, said that its subscribers will not be affected by the raise in subscription fees. This is also one of the reasons why the Malaysians are protesting the ASTRO price increase.


Astro has monopoly of the market for years. The study to be carried out by the information ministry should not be limited to the Astro's RM5 subscription rate increase.  It should also include the deregulation and liberalisation of broadcasting to allow for more television channels and more pay television operators in Malaysia. It is unusual for Malaysia to have  only one pay television operator as there are more than 30,000 cable TV operators in India, mostly family-run establishments. Singapore with a population not more than one fifth of Malaysia also has 2 cable TV operator -- Singapore Cable Vision and StarHub to capture 341,907 subscribers as at 31 Oct 2002.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Member of Parliament for Ipoh Timor & DAP National Chairman