Cable TV

DAS: MSOs, LCOs give low figure of STB seeding, official sources admit it's under 80%

NEW DELHI / MUMBAI: Even as the nation has stepped into an era of full cable television digitisation, there are mixed reports coming in from around the country about the situation on the ground.

While the government had issued a warning to all broadcasters, multi-system and local cable operators about action if they fail to switch off analogue, there are reports from almost every region that Phase IV covering rural India has still a long way to go before full implementation of digital addressable system happens.

The Government had, in mid-January, told the Task Force that while the seeding of set-top boxes in Phase III was almost complete, the figure for Phase IV was 32 per cent. Minister of state for information and broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore told the Parliament in mid-March that around 67 per cent seeding of set-top boxes had been achieved in Phase III and IV while it was total in the first two phases, minus Tamil Nadu.

A ministry source told that the figure had already crossed around 75 per cent in the final two phases. Not wanting to be named, the source ruled out any more grace period, and said that several MSOs and LCOs act only after a final warning, and therefore the chances were that the figure may be higher than those given by him.

However, since there is no plan to help the poor acquire STBs, it is unlikely that the figure would be much higher.

In Tamil Nadu, where there is a court stay in operation since Phase I, the state government run Arasu Cable TV Corporation (TACTV) warned MSOs and LCOs against switching off analogue signals anywhere in the state after 31 March 2017.

Pointing out that the centre had refused to grant DAS licence to TACTV because recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India do not permit state-owned TV or distribution networks, an MSO told that the case had been gong on for so many years primarily because the Central Government was not clearabout its stand and keeps taking adjournments.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, MSOs and LCOs said that around 40 per cent of Phase III had still to be fully seeded and the figure was bound to be higher in Phase IV areas. One MSO not wanting to be named said that there was an area in Hyderabad dominated by a particular community where even law had limited reach where analogue signals continued unchecked. "Whatever had been fixed a long time ago, remains," the MSO said.

Interestingly, a consumer body Citizens Welfare Society had moved the High Court for the twin states saying that, while the government had made it mandatory that DAS signals should be implemented, there was nothing in law to say that analogue has to be switched off and pleading that the two should be allowed to co-exist till people take to DAS voluntarily. Though the case was not admitted, the bench of the Court heard the viewpoints of several MSOs, LCOs, and consumer bodies over twenty hours for the few days and reserved its orders on 20 February 2017. This order is still awaited keenly by consumers as well as MSOs and LCOs.

Siti Network Limited (Essel Group) executive director & CEO V D Wadhwa said that analogue signals had been switched off in the East Zone. Network 18/Viacom18 Group distributor Indiacast Media Group CEO (and Jio Media head - content acquisition/ alliances) Anuj Gandhi also said that analogue had been switched off in compliance with the deadline set by the Government. However, sources said that completely shutting off analogue signals in other zones may be a challenge.

Meanwhile, an MSO in Assam said that while digitisation was complete in Guwahati, it had not even covered fifty per cent of rural Assam. In Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh, MSOs and LCOs interviewed said around 40 per cent seeding had taken place in Phase IV but pointed out that the confusion because of the tariff orders had resulted in direct-go-home players targeting consumers.

Reports from Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand said that while the broadcasters had switched off digital signals in most areas of Phase IV, tthis may trigger some protests over the next few days from consumers as the figure of seeding of set top boxes was very low. The DTH players were also active in these areas.

Maharashtra Cable Operators Federation sources told that the broadcasters had switched off analogue signals, but rural Maharashtra which faced extreme poverty was still largely uncovered by DAS STBs. However, he said he would have a more tangible report over the next two days.

Cable Operators Association of Gujarat president Pramod Pandya said that 80-90 per cent of the state had gone digital, but some broadcasters were still supplying analogue signals in certain areas. Meanwhile, it is learnt that Reliance Jio is planning to bring in cheaper STBs soon, though these may not have many fancy features.

Phase I covering the Metro cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai was originally slated for 30 June 2012 and modified to 31 October 2012. The second phase covering 38 cities (with population more than one million) was slated for 31 March 2013.

The third Phase was to cover all other urban areas (Municipal Corporations/ Municipalities) and was originally slated for 30 September 2014 and modified to 31 December 2015 which was extended to 31 January 2017 and the final phase to 31 March 2017.

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