Octogenarian Uma Duttagupta holds the remote control of her newly installed set-top box tentatively as she fumbles her way through the world of digital cable television. Once in a while, she makes a mistake while trying to change the channel and ends up with static on her screen. She has often had to call in the cable operator to “bring my cable back.”

“I do not know what this newfangled gadget does. The earlier way of watching television worked absolutely fine for me,” she complains.

Ms. Duttagupta is not alone. Unfamiliar with their new set-top boxes and remote controls, many users find the switchover a challenge — one that they could well do without.

With two months to go for the compulsory switchover to digital cable television in the four metro cities, about 65 per cent of the households in Kolkata continue to have reservations about changing to the new system. The October 31 deadline may well have been declared sacrosanct by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, but many believe that it may be revised yet again.

“After the extension of the deadline to October 31, the advertisements by both broadcasters and the Ministry for Information and Broadcasting also stopped. As a result, many consumers have begun to believe that the deadline may be extended yet again. The demand for set-top boxes suddenly declined,” said Alok Sharma, general secretary of the Ideal Cable Operators Association.

However, poor demand for set-top boxes is only one half of the story. While Siti Cable, which provides connections to about 13 lakh of the estimated 40 lakh households in the city, does not have a problem with Set-Top-Box supplies, other multi system operators (MSOs) face a crunch.

There are many MSOs that are facing problems in sourcing set-top boxes and are not able to upgrade all the households covered by them, Mr. Sharma says.

“There are far too many discrepancies in the way these set-top boxes are being priced. Our cable operator has told us that we will have to pay Rs.1,000, but I have heard that operators in other areas are charging much less. My friends at Tollygunge told me they paid Rs. 800. Others have been asked to pay Rs. 1,200,” said Banibrata Sengupta, a resident of Garia on the southern fringe of the city.

Suresh Sethia, director of Siti Cable, admitted that the company was frequently receiving complaints from consumers about the set-top box charges.

“We have told all our cable operators that they can only charge the cost of the set-top box — Rs. 799 — from the consumer. But there are some local cable operators who are quoting higher charges by including the price of other equipment or a premium. If the complaint is brought to our attention — we often receive calls on our helpline — we address the matter immediately,” says Mr. Sethia.

Mr. Sharma explained that while certain MSOs were able to work the installation cost into the charge of about Rs. 800, others were not able to do so, causing the prices to fluctuate. There are serious concerns that the new deadline may again not be met.

Of the 13 lakh households Siti Cable caters to, nearly six lakh homes have already been provided connections (higher than the industry’s average of 35 per cent). But the company has set a target of only 11 lakh homes within the October 31 deadline and the remaining shortly thereafter, Mr. Sethia said.


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