TV sets without set- top boxes face blackout as the government stipulated deadline for installing them expires on March 31

Television sets without the mandatory set- top boxes (STBs) in the capital faced blackouts on Monday in several areas as the government stipulated deadline for installing them had expired on March 31.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had ordered the television channels to become digital and hence transmission of analogue signals were to be switched off from March 31 midnight in the city. Hyderabad is among the 38 cities where the directive was to be implemented.

It was applicable to everyone – broadcasters, multi-system operators (MSOs) and also local cable operators (LCOs), distributing signals to subscribers. Subscribers were being bombarded to install the STBs to access these digital signals.

Although it was not a complete blackout as feared, some of the LCOs had stopped airing channels through the old cable network from 11 a.m. onwards in some areas leading to tempers flaring up in the households. Frantic calls were made by consumers to their cable operator enquiring about the sudden blackout.

In some parts of the twin cities, subscribers received just three channels – TV9, Star Plus and Gemini – till afternoon and later even these services were stopped completely. Few other areas like in the Old City, television viewers could get to watch just 4TV and Doordarshan channels.

“The cable operators are deliberately switched off channels to force us to buy STBs”, alleged K. Ravi Kumar from Somajiguda. During the process of cable digitization, the first phase involved installing STBs in four metro cities. During this phase, MSOs have provided STBs for Rs.600 to Rs.700 but currently they are charging more than double, he complained.

In the meantime, the Andhra Pradesh Cable Operators Welfare Association claimed that they have not shut down the analogue services totally after having received a directive from the Hyderabad Joint Collector (nodal officer for the implementation of the process), asking MSOs not to stop services to the consumers without STBs.

No norm prices

“We are requesting the Central government to give some more time for installing STBs as it was not possible to shift to digital in one go,” said Association president K. Prabhakar Reddy. The main issue is the price being charged for the STB as there is no regulation on it.

Greater Hyderabad Residents Forum (GHRF) president M. Srinivas alleged that operators were indulging in blackouts only to fleece consumers. “We urge the government to intervene and control the STBs rates in the larger interest of customers,” he added.

Cable operators dole out offers

While operators are fleecing customers by charging inflated prices for a set-top box (STB), a MSO at Domalguda, Himayathnagar, Gandhinagar and Chikkadpally is offering latest model STB for a deposit of just Rs.399 with the cable operator. The amount is refundable for any reason. The actual cost of this STB is Rs. 2,000.

MSOs Digi Cable, Citi Cable, Hathaway and ‘C’ Cable are offering an STB between Rs.1,000 and Rs.1,200.

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