But the process is unlikely to be completed by March 31
With the deadline for the second phase of digitisation looming, the government has said 67 per cent of the targeted switch-over to digital cable television technology in 38 cities has been met. It is, however, unlikely that the process will be complete by the March 31.
This has sparked a tug-of-war between the broadcasters, who say they will switch off all analogue signals, and multi-system operators, who have asked for a more “pragmatic view.” The government has said it will stick to the deadline. Meanwhile, local cable operators have dismissed the entire process as a “farce.”
In a statement, the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry said almost 11 million out of the target of 16 million Set Top Boxes (STBs) had been installed. Hyderabad, Amritsar, Chandigarh and Allahabad have achieved nearly 100 per cent digitisation. Three-fourths of digitisation had been achieved in eight other cities. And 28 of the 38 cities have achieved over 50 per cent.
The process is an outcome of law passed in Parliament at the end of 2011, which makes digitisation of cable television mandatory. The logic is that after installing STBs, each viewer would have more choice and access to improved quality. It is meant to decrease carriage fees and improve revenues for broadcasters, lead to more specialist channels, increase the profitability of Multi-System Operators (MSOs) and bring in transparency in the system.
Phase I was limited to Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata and the declared policy is to put the entire country on the digital route by 2014-end.
‘Will hold deadline’
Broadcasters who benefit from the drive have said they will, as per law, “comprehensively switch off all analogue signals from midnight Sunday, March 31, 2013.”
While not specifically asking for an extension, MSOs have, however, appealed to the government to take a “pragmatic view.” Ashok Mansukhani, president, MSO Alliance, told The Hindu: “The government and the regulator should have a generous view. There is no need to wield the stick; we have accepted the challenge of digitisation and are on the way there.”
He added: “It may not be complete in all 38 cities, but it will be done in 25 cities. The rest will happen in due course.” The process, he emphasised, involved the ‘painful deployment’ in 16 million homes.
However, the Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI) has dismissed the entire process as a “farce.” Its president Rup Sharma said: “The ministry data is a bundle of lies. The first phase in the metros is not complete yet. Digitisation does not only mean having STBs, but giving the customers a choice of channels, taking their data, providing them IDs, generating billing according to customer choice. The government is just lying.”
Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said the government would “hold” the deadline. “If there are uncovered areas, we will review it on April 1.” When asked why they were behind the target, he said: “Look here, we are dealing with a universe of 7 crore TV homes, 35 crore people. This is a large segment of humanity. The fact that we have been able to do so much, without any major upheaval, social or otherwise, should go to our credit. We will remain cautious, but stay the course.”