Digitisation mandatory by Nov. 1; cable TV operators to approach High Court for stay order

The deadline is approaching. On November 1, all households in the city with a television will have to install set top boxes (STBs) — those who don’t, may just find themselves with only a blank screen to look at.

Cable television operators in the city however, have said that there is a dire shortage of the devices. The operators have decided to approach the Madras High Court, to ask for a stay on the order.

On Tuesday evening, several cable TV operator groups held a demonstration in Chepauk.

“We hope the High Court gives us a stay as this will be beneficial for consumers,” said John Kennedy, president of the Chennai Metro Cable TV Operators Association.

Under The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2011, complete digitisation of cable TV in the country has been made mandatory by the end of 2014. The move is to be undertaken in four phases.

Under the first phase, it is compulsory for consumers in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai to install STBs in order to receive encrypted digital signals from broadcasters through cable operators.

In Chennai, there are over 1 lakh boxes active at present, and there is a demand for about 45 lakh more. “There are three major players who supply STBs here, but none of them have stock of the devices. Even if they place orders now, it will take a couple of weeks for them to be shipped from China,” said Mr. Kennedy.

P. S. Elavarasu, president of the Tamil Nadu Cable TV Urimayalargal Sangam, said that it was unfair on the part of the government to thrust STBs on the public.

The move towards digitisation would take a toll on consumers, he said, adding, “A large section of people are not aware of the need to install the boxes. Besides, cable TV is the only source of entertainment for many low-income families. They cannot afford to buy STBs.”

V. Rama Rao, secretary of the Lakshmi Nagar Civic Welfare Association said residents in his locality had been asking their local cable TV operators for STBs.

“But they said wholesale operators have not imported the boxes in bulk over the last six months or so. Last month, out local operator contacted us and asked us to pick up the STBs after paying Rs. 1, 350 towards activation charges,” he said.

Mr. Rao added that the cost of an STB does not exceed Rs. 1,000. “The other metro city operators are supplying the devices for Rs. 700. But our operator said it was not possible as there wasn’t adequate stock of the boxes,” he said.

Mr. Rao also said that the conditional access system (CAS), which is functioning at present, was better than the digital addressable system as under the former, STBs are not forced on consumers.

The CAS rate is Rs. 5.35 per pay channel per month, and under CAS, all major Tamil pay channels are offered free in Chennai. “We hope that the Tamil Nadu government will be making an effort to extend the deadline for digitisation,” he said.

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