Cable TV

DAS Phase III: MIB’s big dilemma

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MUMBAI: The past fortnight has seen High Court directives in five different states make a mockery of the 31 December, 2015 deadline set by the government for the Phase III roll out of digital addressable system (DAS).

The courts have urged the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) to not act against multi system operators (MSOs) and cable operators who have not been able to place set top boxes (STBs) in homes for two months. In essence, the DAS sunset date has been extended in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Sikkim, Maharashtra, Odhisa, Tamil Nadu and now Guwahati.

The Bombay High Court specifically cited a Supreme Court judgment and noted that a stay granted by a high court on a central notification in one state would be applicable in other states as well. That was the case of Kusum Ingots vs the Union of India, in 2004. (http://indiankanoon.org/doc/1876565/)

The question on everyone’s mind is: would other petitioners in other states under the DAS Phase III ambit also approach their respective High Courts for relief? Hence, did it make sense for broadcast networks to continue with digitally encrypted signals, which they had resorted to once the clock struck midnight of the new year?

Most of them including Viacom18, Star India, Zee and Sony thought it did not. Hence, they have all switched on their analog signals a day or so after switching them off.

Now that has put the MIB in a bit of a quandary. The team lead by MIB secretary Sunil Arora - and including special secretary JS Mathur, and joint secretary RS Jaya apart from other members - have been driving DAS III digitisation and were quite clear that no extension should be given. 

Sources indicate that one line of action being considered by the MIB is to approach the Supreme Court for relief against the restraint orders granted by the various courts. Experts such as Supreme Court advocate KV Dhananjay have argued against the stance taken in the Kusum Ingots case by the courts. (http://www.legallyindia.com/Blogs/some-hc-judges-are-becoming-terribly-ignorant-of-our-constitution)

Whether the MIB will go ahead and approach the Supreme Court or not is a moot point, but the industry is putting its might behind it. Most of the industry associations like the Indian Broadcasting Foundation, the DTH Operators Association and the MSO Alliance have all reportedly urged the ministry to move the apex court.

Industry believes that the extension is unlikely to serve any purpose, as cable operators knew of the phased rollout of DAS as much as for the past three to four years and hence they could have prepared for it. Complaining about a shortage of STBs or interconnect agreements or capital post the sunset date is simply facile, professionals state. 

“The analog switch off is mandatory,” says an industry observer. “Digitally encrypted signals need to be the only mode of television delivery via satellite in India in Phase III areas. Private DTH operators and the government owned FreeDish can deliver television wherever there are signal dark areas courtesy cable TV’s unpreparedness. The government needs to approach the courts to ensure that DAS Phase III proceeds as soon as possible.”

We will have to wait and watch if it does.

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