Cable digitisation gets parliamentary approval

NEW DELHI: In a major step forward, the Government today received Parliamentary sanction for its digitisation programme with the Rajya Sabha passing the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Second Amendment Bill which has already been approved by the Lok Sabha.

The Bill, which seeks to replace an Ordinance promulgated in October, will now go to the President for her assent before it is notified as an Act.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said in her reply to the brief discussion that the consumer will be the main beneficiary of digitisation. She said that the consumer will now be free to choose the channels he/she wanted instead of being forced to accept the bouquets offered by the direct-to-home operators or multi-system operators. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has been authorised under the Bill to fix the tariff for a-la-carte basis.

Referring to apprehensions that cable operators would be ‘put out of business‘, she said that there were bound to be some teething troubles but the cable operators would gain in the long run. She said that the Bill will also give an impetus to the Headend-in-the-Sky programme (HITS) which will help cable operators. Capacity building programmes would be held to apprise them with new technologies.

Soni said that an enabling provision had put in place to the effect that only Rs 200,000 to Rs 300,000 would be needed by cable operators to move to digitisation.

She said around 65 per cent of the broadcasting industries all over the world relied on subscriptions rather than advertising while Indian broadcasters relied on advertising and hence did everything to get TRPs. Digitisation would give a true assessment of the subscriber base of the broadcasters and reduce dependence on advertisements. In turn, this may also lead to reduction in the vulgar content on television channels as there would be lesser dependence on TRPs.

Apart from improving the quality of reception, digitisation would also empower the cable operators to give larger number of channels to the consumers. There will be no prime band after digitisation, she said.

She said the Bill would plug revenue leakage and enable regulatory agencies to check illegal content.

The Bill has punitive clauses against cable operators, MSOs or DTH operators who failed to show the must-carry channels, including the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha TV channels.

While most members supported the Bill, they expressed apprehensions about the closing down of cable TV operations, and cautioned the government against exploitation of the common viewer in the form of unjustifiable hikes in the cable rates and vulgar and misleading advertisements.

The Bill aims to digitise the cable sector in the country by 31 December 2014. The Government had earlier announced a timetable for complete digitisation of cable television in the four metros by 31 March, 2012, but this was put off to June 2012 in a notification issued subsequently. The target date for completely digitising cable sector in cities with population of more than one million was 30 March 2013, all urban areas by 30 September 2014, and the whole country by 31 December 2014.

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