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Govt claims almost 100 percent STB seeding in DAS III areas despite cases

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NEW DELHI: Despite the challenge to digital addressable systems in many courts in the country, the government has claimed almost 100 per cent achievement in phase III areas with seeding of about 41 million (4.1 crore) set top boxes.   

The claim was made by Information and Broadcasting joint secretary R Jaya in the 15th meeting of the Task Force on implementation of phases III and IV of DAS of cable television networks on 30 May 2016 under the chairpersonship of l&B secretary Ajay Mittal.

In the last meeting on 16 February 2016, it had been disclosed that around 90.44 percent success had been achieved in DAS phase III. During the meeting it was informed that the seeding of STBs by multi system operators increased from 6.91 million to 12.43 million between 31 December 2015 and 15 February 2016.

But she admitted that seeding had slowed down due to court cases. She also said the figure given by her may include some reporting of seeding in phase lV

A total of 42 court cases have been filed for extension in the deadline of phase lll in various courts in the country with the 2-month extension by the Telangana and Andhra Pradesh High Court. Other courts followed suit on the grounds that this order was extendable to other areas. This led to the centre moving the Supreme Court which passed an order of transfer of all cases for extension filed in various courts and any new cases on similar prayer to the Delhi High Court for adjudication.

Seventeen cases have so far been transferred by various courts to the Delhi High Court out of which the High Court had dismissed three cases and another three cases were being heard that same day. A case filed by one Headend-in-the-sky player on the same matter was also being heard in the Delhi High Court on that day (30 May 2016).

Jaya said more MSOs’ had been given registration since the last meeting of the Task Force taking the total to 870. She said that MSOs’ and broadcasters should now concentrate on phase lV areas and prioritize signing of interconnect agreements for these areas.

She also asked stakeholders to plan and start launching of publicity awareness campaigns for mandatory digitisation in phase lV areas which is to be completed by 31 December 2016.

Earlier, Mittal said DAS was a win-win situation for all and so all sectors should cooperate. He said the meeting of the Task Force could not be held since February 2016 due to various administrative reasons.

He said the consumers deserve better quality reception and other benefits from digitisation. He hoped that all stakeholders would make concerted efforts to digitise the remaining areas under the fourth and last phase of digitisation.

He said the ministry had planned to hold a fresh round of several regional workshops at various places in the country in the coming months as had been done for the last phase. .

Advisor (DAS) Yogendra Pal said the ministry has asked all registered MSOs’, DTH & HITS operators’ to enter the seeding data in the MIS system developed by the ministry for collection of data for all the four phases instead of phase lll which they had been doing until now, and update it once in a week. He added that MIS system has suitably been modified for this purpose and 35 operators have already entered seeding data for Phase lV.

He said that only about 1,000 applications had been received till date in the ministry for MSO registration against the expected number of about 6,000 applications. He requested the members to advise those MSOs’ who are yet to apply for DAS registration to do the same. He mentioned that the ministry had requested the broadcasters to check up with all MSOs’ with whom they have interconnect agreements if they have taken MSO registration for phase lV areas and advise them to do so immediately.

The members were told that the TV household requirements as per census 2011 data would be provided though this would be district wise and not rural area wise.

A representative of a Consumer Forum said though digitisation has not adversely affected anybody, much that was expected from the consumer point of view is still awaited.

A local cable operator from Maharashtra regretted that before implementation of DAS, LCOs’ were entrepreneurs and after its implementation they have become employees of MSOs’. He also said that LCOs’ have been voicing their concerns from the time of the first phase but without being heard.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India regulation on revenue sharing between MSOs’ and LCOs’ is an issue that is still unresolved. He added that MSOs’ are not entering into proper interconnect agreements with LCOs’. He remarked that digitisation under phase lV may not be easy as all national MSOs’ may not be able to cover all areas.

But a representative of GTPL mentioned that MSOs’ and LCOs’ are separate entities. They sign agreements with each other as principals. Each entity has its defined role in providing the service. He said the government should consider giving some incentives for digitization in phase lV areas. He added that TRAI had also recommended some incentives in its recommendations which were not accepted by the government.

At this, Mittal said any incentives sought for by any group or sector should get passed on to the people.

A representative of Hathway said LCOs’ can also become MSOs’. He said MSOs’ have no issues with regard to interconnect agreements with LCOs’. He said on the directive of Bombay High Court, TRAI had prescribed a standard interconnect agreement form after due process of consultations. This form serves as a template for all such agreements.

He suggested that broadcasters should offer special rates for phase lll and phase lV markets.

A Siti Cable representative said digitisation had benefitted people as they get greater channel choice and better signal quality. He said extension of deadline granted by various courts for phase lll of digitisation had badly affected the pace of digitization. He added that the MSOs’ are losing out on huge inventory of set top boxes which they are not able to deploy in the field. With regard to phase lV of digitisation, he said the headends installed by them for phase lll will cater to phase lV areas as well.

A DTH representative said as a result of the extension in deadline granted by various courts, they had to retrench some of their employees whom they had deployed in the field.

An LCO from Assam complained that one MSO in Assam had served a legal notice to LCOs’ for migrating to another MSO, and consumers had also been served with legal notice for return of set top box bought by them from the MSO through outright purchase. He said the authorized officers in the state of Assam do not take action against MSOs’ who are violating the cable network rules and regulations.

The TRAI representative admitted that while regulations prescribe three modes of purchase for STBs - outright purchase, hire purchase, and rental mode, standard plans have been prescribed under rental mode only and no price for outright purchase has been prescribed by TRAI.

Referring to the Assam LCO, he said this would not have arisen if the interconnect agreements entered by MSOs’ with LCOs’ had been clear on every issue.

He said TRAI had recently started a fresh review of all regulations and consultation process on the same is on. He added that TDSAT earlier used to pass interim orders but had of late it passed orders that were final.

Mittal hoped that the review of the DAS Regulations undertaken by TRAI is completed quickly and the various grievances of the stakeholders regarding the extant regulations are addressed. He also remarked that there appeared to be lack of trust between the MSOs’ and LCOs’ and TRAI should look at this.

An LCO from Maharashtra complained that the state government entertainment officers are sealing the control rooms of MSOs’ for non-payment of Entertainment Tax.

But he was told that only the authorized officers, as defined in the Cable TV Act and Rules framed thereunder, are authorized to take any action for violations of the various provisions of the Act.

The Advisor said one state government had complained to the ministry that MSOs’ are not giving them access to their SMS system to verify the lists of subscribers. He said that MSOs’ should provide the SMS report to the state governments as and when asked by them.

An Odisha government representative said the state government has set up coordination committees at state and district level to implement cable TV digitisation in the state. He added that the nodal officers in the state are also checking the MIS data on regular basis. The state nodal officer from the state of Telengana mentioned that 20 MSOs’ operating in the state had not so far entered data in the MIS system. Jaya said that it was heartening to know that state governments are also monitoring the seeding of data by MSOs’ in their states. She mentioned that the MIS system deployed by ministry sends an alert to an MSO in case he does not update his data.

She said that the regional units set up by the ministry for remain in touch with MSOs’ to ensure that MSOs’ follow the rules.

A point was raised that LCOs’ are asked by the Head Post Offices to obtain NOC certificate from the state government for issue as well as renewal of their LCO registration. It was suggested that LCO registration be granted for 5 years instead of period of one year as per existing rules. Mittal agreed to consider this.

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