Government may extend deadline beyond July 1

With just two weeks to go for the July 1 deadline to digitalise cable services in the metro cities, stakeholders were holding fast to their stances — broadcasters insisting that the deadline must be met, while multi-system operators, local cable operators and consumer associations demanding an extension.

However, with over 90 lakh of the estimated 1.23 crore cable subscribers still not having installed the set-top boxes required for digitalisation, sources at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting indicated that an extension had been recommended to the Secretary. If the deadline was not extended, a cable blackout could result for subscribers without set-top boxes.

After a meeting of the digitalisation taskforce here on Friday, I&B Secretary Uday Kumar Varma told journalists that the government was likely to declare its final position in a week's time.

“The task force took note of all the information that it received from stakeholders. We are also in touch with the State governments, and after considering all these things, we will come to a conclusion,” he said. He suggested that three options were being considered: sticking to the deadline, extending it, or a compromise solution of providing some sort of “relaxation in implementation.”

Three of the State governments involved – West Bengal, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu – have officially said they were not prepared to meet the deadline, with the last two suggesting December 31, 2012 as an alternative. Ministry sources said Delhi had also informally conveyed the need for an extension.

“What is the point of a legal deadline if the States cannot implement it?” asked a Ministry source.

“Who is going to take the responsibility for 90 lakh screens going blank and people coming out on the streets to protest?” In such a situation, it has reportedly been recommended to the Secretary that an extension be granted.

A group of local cable operators from Delhi said there was a shortage of boxes. In a statement, the Cable Operators Welfare Association demanded the “extension of deadlines for switching off analogue as there are no adequate STBs.”

However, Mr. Varma said multi-system operators informed the government that a large number of STBs were available or “on the way.”

The move to digitalise the metros is the first phase of the government's plan to phase out analogue television in the country by 2014.

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