Cable TV

Final Task Force meet for DAS Phase III; Govt & TRAI deny any chaos

NEW DELHI / MUMBAI: The last sunset of 2015 on 31 December will not only end this calendar year but will also mark the sundown on the era of analog signals in Phase III areas of Digital Addressable System (DAS) in India.

Millions of television households are set to be digitised taking the country one step closer to the ‘Digital India’ vision. The government is adamant that analogue signals will be cut off from 1 January, 2016 for areas covered under the DAS Phase III. In the light of the deadline being merely two days away now, a final Task Force meeting has been convened for tomorrow (30 December, 2015) to take stock of the situation.

A senior executive in cable fraternity feels that the cut-off of signals can lead to a massive law and order situation on ground and the government should be held responsible for any mishap that takes place. He says, “It's just a day left and still they don't know what will happen after that. The analog signals will be cut off; it’s a fair call but what if consumers go and vandalise the cable operator? He will have to undergo serious financial damage. Moreover, that can even trigger a riot. We are dealing with vulnerable areas and the government needs to understand that.”

Another senior level executive at a national multi system operator (MSO) opines, “Imagine a scenario when 5000 people are watching New Year special programming on various channels and in the midst of it, the signals are cut off! Does digitisation mean harassing the consumer? What have the authorities done to ensure a smooth transition? When a huge road is made, government gives exemption right. We pay toll and then later the amount is taken care of. Why could they not do something similar with cable if they really wanted the digitisation process to be smooth? I fail to understand why we had to do it in phases. We could have done it state-wise too. Overall, I think there is no option but to wait and watch.”

A source from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, who did not wish to be named told that both the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and some High Courts had already said that interconnect agreements (ICA) have to be in place.

The source further added that enough time had been given to the stakeholders and TRAI had held several meetings with different segments of the stakeholders to iron out differences wherever they existed.

Reacting to the judgement of the Bombay High Court that stop-gap agreements should be permitted till TRAI issues a format of the kind of ICAs that should be signed, sources said that both the Ministry and TRAI were already working on a formal format for the ICA. The Ministry source said that it would accept the directive of the Bombay High Court since it worked in favour of digitisation.

Speaking to this website, a TRAI spokesperson said that the regulator had already floated a Consultation Paper for a model ICA for which the last date for comments is 31 December, 2015 and for counter-comments is 7 January, 2016. In view of the urgency, he expected TRAI to come out with its model ICA within a week of receiving all comments.

When asked about the shortage of set top boxes (STBs) in many areas, the Ministry source said that the actual position would become clear after the Task Force meeting.

However, reports so far indicate that there was no shortage of STBs though there had been some areas, which could not receive them in time.

The TRAI official added that MSOs had assured the regulator that there was no shortage of STBs. While there were reports stating that some local cable operators had not received STBs, the spokesperson said that STBs were now available in the open market and any viewer could obtain these readily.

Denying reports of any chaos in the event of the switch-off of the analogue signals, the Ministry source said that viewers all over the country had been made aware of the deadline through intensive ad campaigns run on television and social media and therefore problems would be minimal with regard to the deadline.

The TRAI source added that with other options like HITS and DTH including Freedish available, the regulator did not foresee any chaos. In fact, several mobile apps were already offering TV channels live.

The source conceded that many viewers had taken the open route of subscribing to a private dish operator but said this was obvious in any competitive economy.

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