Cable TV

DAS: A mirage that moves farther, the closer one gets to it

New Delhi/Mumbai: When developed countries like the United States and the United Kingdom decided to adopt digital addressable systems (DAS), they knew there would be major road blocks.

Not only did these countries decide to complete digitisation by 2017-end, but admitted that both analogue and DAS would have to co-exist for some time until all viewers realised the advantages of digitisation.

In its effort to beat these bigger countries, India decided it would set out a deadline wherein analogue and DAS would not co-exist.

The result was a mirage that was shown to most Indians and – as it happens with a mirage – the realisation became more distant as the deadlines approached.

It was exactly a decade earlier (14 September, 2005) that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) presented its first report on Digitisation of Cable Television. Five years later, in August 2010 it gave recommendations relating to DAS.

However, it was only in April 2011 that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) finalised the schedule for digitisation. According to that decision, which was notified in November that year, the entire country was to have adapted to digital addressable cable systems by December 2014. The first phase covering the metros was to be completed by 31 March, 2012, Phase II covering cities with a population more than one million by 31 March, 2013, Phase III covering all urban areas (Municipal Corporations/Municipalities) by 30 September, 2014 and Phase IV covering the rest of India by 31 December, 2014.

Since then, the deadlines have been pushed at least twice. The first was when Phase I was delayed by six months, whereas the second was when the current Government decided that the Phase III deadline would be extended to December 2015 and Phase IV to December 2016.

And clearly at a time like this, it would be apt to quote these popular lines from Robert Frost's poem made famous by the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru – 'The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep.'

Indeed there are miles to go even as Phase I in the metros claimed to be major success. But it is well known that DAS continued to be barred by a stay order of the Madras High Court, and there are large pockets in the other three metros (Mumbai, Delhi & Kolkata) where analogue TV continues to thrive. 

Phase II also suffered in that many of the cities are still not digitised and this is evidenced by the large number of cases pending before the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Arbitration Tribunal (TDSAT).

Keeping in mind ground level realities, the government initially contemplated merging the final two phases, but realised that this might lead to major embarrassment. Therefore, it was decided by the Narendra Modi led government to implement Phase III by the end of 2015 and the rest of the country in Phase IV by the end of 2016. The third phase includes 38.79 million television households spread across 630 districts and 7,709 urban areas.

In a recent conversation with, MIB additional secretary J S Mathur, who heads the Task Force for the final two phases, ruled out any possibility of extension of deadline. He said, “There is no reason for any extension of dates for completion of phase III. Work is proceeding as per schedule.”  

However as the saying goes, there are many a slips between the cup and the lip. So even as the first deadline is barely four months away, there are many hurdles in the way that need to be crossed.

Apart from several legal issues, the last Task Force itself laid bare many of these hurdles.


Although the Home Ministry has in principle decided to do away with security clearance for multi system operators (MSOs), the fact is that India still has not even touched the figure of 375 in the number of MSOs. As per the last report dated 20 August,2015, while 226 MSOs have 10-year licences, 146 have only provisional licences. It does not need a bright mind to figure out that the number stands out as a joke when one considers the number of television households in the country.


The country still does not have adequate STBs and it is claimed by many local cable operators (LCOs) that the STBs being supplied are those that are meant for direct-to-home (DTH) transmission and not cable and therefore create problems. The other option is to take cheap China-made STBs.

Despite the Make in India campaign, very few manufacturers have come forward with proposals for reliable STBs. 

The Consumer Electronics and Appliances Manufacturers Association (CEAMA) complained at the Task Force meeting that no major orders were being placed with it by MSOs. However, a representative of the CEAMA said, "There is little time to place orders if they want the STBs, which are required to be delivered before the cut-off date."

The FICCI annual survey of manufacturing shows that there has actually been a decline in the manufacture of electronic goods, despite the Make in India impetus. The manufacture of electronics – presuming these include broadcast equipment and STBs - and electrical came down from 75 per cent in the last quarter of 2013-14 to 70 per cent in the same period of 2014-15.


Clearly, this is a grey area, since many people in the country are not aware of the advantages of DAS. The last Task Force meeting stressed on the need to push up awareness through advertisements, workshops, and interactive sessions. There was even mention of a Chetna Yatra.  

There is lack of communication even between the regulator TRAI and the stakeholders. A Task Force member from Assam said, “The regulatory bodies need to speed up their action. TRAI is supposed to launch its regional operations. There is no clear idea when that will happen. The system here in Assam is not aware of various rules and regulations and the operators do not have the affording power to take the legal battle to Delhi so they often succumb to injustice.”   


TRAI had recently asked all broadcasters and MSOs to make the Authority aware of any problems they were facing. However! there were very few complaints, because in most cases the matters are pending before TDSAT or courts of law.

The interconnect agreement between the stakeholders of the ecosystem is pending even in DAS phase I and phase II areas. “People are not ready to spend in head-ends as there is no clear revenue model. There are distributors who have their favorite MSOs and there is a discrimination of revenue flow on the basis of that favouritism,” said an LCO. He further added “We want a transparent revenue model, which will only come after signing of the interconnect agreement.”


In an order on 28 April subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court, TDSAT told TRAI that it “will be well advised to have a fresh look at the various tariff orders in a holistic manner and come out with a comprehensive tariff order in supersession of all the earlier tariff orders.”

It had also said, “While doing so, it may consider all the agreements and relevant data available with it. It may consider differentiating between content, which is of a monopolistic nature as against that which is shown by other channels also. It may also consider classifying the content into premium and basic tiers.”  The Tribunal had struck down TRAI's tariff orders.


TRAI has already begun a fresh exercise in the light of court orders in trying to determine the difference between commercial and private tariff. Following directions by TDSAT earlier this year that there was need for a fresh look at tariff orders, TRAI had issued a new paper on "Tariff issues related to Commercial Subscribers". In the paper, TRAI asked commercial subscribers whether there is need to define and differentiate between domestic subscribers and commercial subscribers for provision of TV signals and the basis for such classification.


There is no clear communication between the two very important stakeholders of the DAS ecosystem - the MSOs and distributors. Recently all Multi Screen Media MD channels were taken off Hathway due to internal issues between the two stakeholders. Additionally, Indusind Media and Communication Limited (IMCL) and India Cast are now going through disruption. IMCL informed its subscribers through a message: “Indiacast group is demanding steep increase in monthly subscription, which is commercially unviable, they are pressurizing us by running OSD on colors. IMCL is planning to take the legal recourse. Regret inconvenience caused to you and appreciate your support. Thanks IMCL team”


The lack of understanding is more prominent when it comes to the MSO and the last mile operators (LMO). The LMOs claim that they are never given their due. The differences are often taken to the regulatory bodies. In one such case, the Bombay High Court issued directions to TRAI to settle the Interconnect Agreement (ICA) issue between LMOs and MSOs within two weeks even as the MSOs believe that there is not enough transparency when it comes to the revenue models.     

Progress, it is said, cannot be stopped. Similarly, DAS is bound to come in the country. What remains to be seen is whether in its race to catch up with the developed world, it will succeed in a smooth transition or lead to a mess that probably will linger on in courts of law, corridors of bureaucracy, or the one-upmanship of political parties. 


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