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DAS Phase IV pace slack; MIB to meet Indian STB makers

NEW DELHI: A miniscule percentage of set-top boxes have been seeded in DAS Phase IV after August 2016 as compared to those seeded earlier in four phases when six weeks are left for the deadline for switching off analogue signals is reached.

Although the total number of set-top boxes seeded in the country for four phases of the digital addressable system is 92.424 million till 25 October 2016, a mere 1.966 million STBs were seeded in the Phase IV areas after 31 August 2016.

Also, the much-touted indigenously manufactured STBs with iCAS or Indian CAS too have not found much favour with industry players as no major purchase orders had been placed.

The MIS system shows that about 2.843 million including 8,76,000 STBs in Phase III for which the deadline was 31 December 2015 have been seeded, according to figures released at the 18th Task Force meeting held on 26 October 2016.

(Phase IV areas, needing approximately 75 million STBs according to industry estimates, mostly comprise rural India’s smaller hamlets and towns where selling the idea of digitisation and getting a STB at home itself is considered a challenging task by LCOs, MSOs and other stakeholders.)

The Task Force was told that the Nodal Officers have been supplied with the passwords to access state wise specific reports from the MIS system. Information and Broadcasting Ministry Joint Secretary Mihir Singh who chaired the meeting said the Ministry may analyze the district wise seeding data and send the district wise status of progress of seeding to the respective States for further action.

Meanwhile, the meeting was informed that five of the 45 cases transferred to the Delhi High Court relating to Phase III following Supreme Court directives had been disposed off. Two cases had been returned to the respective High Courts as these did not relate to DAS implementation; 23 cases were listed for hearing before a Division Bench headed by Chief Justice G Rohini and 13 cases before a single bench. Two cases are yet to be listed for hearing. The Chairperson directed that the Ministry should ensure that the court notices are delivered to the petitioners according to the directions of the court.

Referring to the public awareness campaign through television commercials, the Chairperson said broadcasters need to increase the frequency of these spots particularly during prime time for greater impact. He directed the broadcasters to carry these spots at least four times a day, of which two should be during the prime time from 7 pm to 11 pm.

Giving an update on the status of public awareness campaign for Phase lV, Advisor (DAS) Yogendra Pal said broadcasters, including Doordarshan, are giving wide publicity using two AV spots developed by the Ministry. He added that in addition to these spots, the Indian Broadcasting Foundation had also developed its own spot. Scrolls are also being run by broadcasters on their channels.

The representative of the News Broadcasters Association said 62 channels of their members are carrying AV spots and are also carrying scrolls developed by them.

The Ministry has issued an advisory to about 4500 cable operators to apply for registration as multisystem operators immediately if interested, failing which they would not be able to work as MSOs after the cut-off date of 31 December 2016. In this regard, advertisements were also published in all regional newspapers on 9 September and 1 October 2016. In order to ensure that only registered MSOs are operating in all DAS notified areas, the Ministry had requested lBF, NBA and ARTBI to provide the names of the registered MSOs, phase-wise and area-wise, with whom they have entered into interconnect agreements for pay channels to the Ministry by 28 October 2016. lt was clarified to the representatives of IBF that information has been asked in a particular format and has to be sent for all phases.

However, the date had been put off to 4 November 2016 on the request of representatives of IBF and NBA.

Representatives of national MSOs mentioned that the seeding in Phase IV areas was not satisfactory due to various court cases for phase III and the status will drastically change once these cases are disposed off by the Delhi High Court. It was also mentioned that most of the head-ends serving phase IV areas are located in phase III areas and hence transition to digital in phase IV areas should not pose any problem.

The Chairperson asked the members to suggest measures to implement phase IV of digitisation by the notified cut-off date of 31 December 2016.

Members made some suggestions in this regard. One was that the Ministry should as a pre-emptive measure consider filing caveats and the Ministry should consider extending the date till March 2017 in line with the draft revised tariff orders of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

The TRAI representative opposed this, saying that revision of regulations and tariff orders is a routine exercise and cut-off date should not be linked with the issue of draft tariff orders.

The representatives of CEAMA and DTH also opposed any extension of the cut-off date.

Welcoming the judgement, SITI Networks Limited executive director and CEO VD Wadhwa said, "This is a landmark moment in the Digital India journey as it will also clear the passage for timely implementation of DAS Phase 4 of digitisation. The industry had been suffering due to pending litigation, and with this welcome move, all hurdles have been cleared. It is now obligatory on part of broadcasters and other players to disconnect analogue signals within two weeks."

All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF), the industry body representing Digital Multi System Operators (MSO), has asked all its members to work with broadcasters to switch off analogue signals and implement digitisation is DAS Phase III markets immediately. This will also pave the way for digital revenues to flow in from these areas as per the directives of the TRAI.

AIDCF has also urged all local cable operators, MSOs, broadcasters and government bodies to help complete digitisation at the earliest. Federation president VD Wadhwa said: "On behalf of AIDCF, I urge all MSOs, cable operators, broadcasters to switch off analogue feeds in two weeks to comply with the honorable court's order. We would also request government bodies to extend their good support in meeting the digitisation deadlines."

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