The aim is to complete process, not to cause inconvenience, says official

As the deadline for the digitisation of cable television in 38 cities lapsed on April 1 and with 75 per cent of the target met, the Ministry for Information and Broadcasting has decided to look at the “bigger picture” and be “prudent” rather than “mechanical.”

This means the government has allowed a “grace time” for households that are yet to install Set-Top Boxes (STBs) rather than switch off analogue signals, thus blanking TV screens.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari told The Hindu that it was important to keep in mind that the government was dealing with a huge universe, with “14.5 crore television sets, 833 channels, 60,000 multi-system operators, and 6,00,000 local cable operators.” In the current Phase-II of the process, the objective is to install 16 million STBs. “This is a very ambitious task. We have to balance between the imperative of not extending the deadline, which will send out a wrong signal, and completing the process in a manner which causes the least disruption and pain.”

The Ministry’s Secretary, Uday Kant Verma, said there was a “remarkable achievement,” with 18 cities achieving more than 75 per cent digitisation, including seven that switched fully to digital television. “Many others have achieved over 50 per cent. Data is still coming in, but STBs are being installed at a great speed.” However, he admitted to problems in Srinagar, Coimbatore and Vishakhapatnam for different reasons.

Mr. Verma said that while the deadline was “where it was” and lapsed, the government had always allowed a “transition time of 10-15 days.” “In some places, there is a shortage of Set-Top Boxes; in others, some stakeholders are taking additional time. The idea is to complete the process, not to cause inconvenience to consumers.”

Courts have extended the deadline in key cities like Bangalore, while Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has sought a six-month extension. Mr. Verma said the Ministry would respond to the request, but added: “There are ways of addressing concerns… without deadline extension.”

The process is an outcome of a law passed in Parliament at the end of 2011, making digitisation of cable television mandatory by 2014-end. Phase-I was limited to Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.

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