Faced with the prospect of a cable television blackout in the four major metros, the government has postponed the deadline for a switchover from the analogue system to digital system to November 1.

With just 10 days left to meet the original deadline of July 1, the Centre has come to terms with the fact that over 90 lakh of the estimated 1.23 crore cable subscribers in the metros have not yet installed set top boxes that are required for digitalisation.

West Bengal, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu had officially said they are not prepared to meet the deadline, with the latter two suggesting December 31 as an alternative. If the deadline had not been extended, screens would have gone blank in 90 lakh households.

In a statement issued on Wednesday evening, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting put the blame on the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), which issued its regulations on tariffs and interconnection three months later than expected. This delayed the entire process of negotiations between the broadcasters and cable operators, and ultimately gave little time for consumers to install set top boxes, according to a Ministry statement. Several cable operators have complained that supply of set top boxes is insufficient.

The broadcasters, who stand to gain from the new system, are not happy with the postponement of the deadline. “We are disappointed with the extension. This is an important process, but we understand that the ground is not ready. People are making their own excuses,” said Sunil Lulla, Managing Director and Chief Executive of Times Television Network. “The government must take strict punitive action against those who fail to comply with the new deadline.”

Vice- president of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation Lulla said, “We have exposed 11,275 television spots to date, to inform consumers of the June 30 deadline. We have done our part.”

The government is determined to implement the new deadline. “It is imperative that the modified target deadline is set with strict benchmarks to ensure that no complacency sets in the system and the new target date is achieved collectively by all the stakeholders,” said the I&B Ministry adding that it would monitor the situation over the next four months and “issue warning letters to those going slow on their written commitments.”

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