Cable TV

MIB burning midnight oil to find ways to counter battery of High Court orders staying DAS

NEW DELHI: Considering the odds it is facing from various High Courts all over the country for extending the deadline for implementing Phase III of Digital Addressable System (DAS), the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) has to find a way to get even justice for the ultimate stakeholder — the consumer.

Perhaps because of that, the last few days have been very busy in the corridors of fifth and sixth floors of Shastri Bhavan in the capital, which houses the MIB, with officials holding several meetings to find a way to stop the snowballing of the orders that commenced from Hyderabad and found a boost in the arguments in the Bombay High Court based on the Kusum Ingots case of 2004, which encouraged multi system operators (MSOs) and local cable operators (LCOs) in other states.

At present, the implementation remains stayed for varying periods in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Maharashtra, Orissa, Sikkim, and Telangana, apart from Tamil Nadu where prolonged legal cases have been pending since Phase I. A petition has already been filed in the Karnataka High Court and is listed for 8 January.

Ministry sources confirmed to that meetings had been held with legal experts and particularly with Government counsel.

There was also general consensus on filing a petition by the Government in the Supreme Court, particularly as the apex court had on an earlier occasion relating to the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 and orders issued thereunder that High Courts have to be cautious when giving orders on matters relating to policy.  

Government legal experts advised that an appeal could be filed against any of the High Court orders in the Supreme Court and the apex court could be asked to transfer all linked matters to Delhi to be heard together.

However, it needs to be seen whether this will be in the form of a writ petition or an appeal against the various High Courts – a decision left to a battery of legal experts.

MSOs said, however, that this would impose a lot of financial burden on them as they could ill-afford to hire counsel in the Supreme Court. 

Even as the Ministry would obey the directives of the various High Courts, which had extended the DAS deadline by various periods ranging between eight to 12 weeks, it would prepare to oppose the decisions.

A senior Ministry official said that even as the Ministry was waiting to see all the High Court orders, it was working on how plans to thwart the implementation of Phase III could be prevented – if necessary through legislative processes.

The official also expressed the view that the cases would in fact benefit the direct to home (DTH) and Headend In The Sky (HITS) players and would affect the last mile operator (LMO).

The sources said they had evidence to show seeding of set top boxes (STBs) to the extent of 76 per cent as revealed in the 13th Task Force meeting on 30 December. 

Meanwhile, legal opinion is divided on whether the Kusum Ingots case, which was referred to in the Bombay High Court could be used by a High Court to direct a pan-India stay.

The broadcasters and channel distributors are united on one view: the government should not give any extension on its own, as that would lead to a further delay in not just the Phase III and Phase IV (slated for December 2016) but also pockets of Phase I and Phase II, which have still not implemented digital addressable systems.

It is also learnt that both broadcasters on the one hand and the channel distributors and major MSOs on the other, are pressing the government to move the apex court to get a single ruling instead of different High Court orders.

However, it was admitted by the stakeholders that there was very little progress as far as indigenous STBs are concerned with just one or two players making local boxes despite the ‘Make in India’ campaign, and the government had to be proactive in this regard.

The attempt would be to prevent the High Courts from staying implementation of Phase III under which analogue signals were to be switched off after midnight on 31 December, 2015.

One representative of a broadcaster said switching back to analogue on getting a High Court stay did not cause any technical difficulty, but it raised problems relating to accounts and agreements already agreed upon.

Be that as it may, the consumer who has already spent money on acquiring STBs hopes his efforts will not go waste in haste.

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