Digitisation: Mumbai cable operators unite to press for 2-month extension

MUMBAI: Even as television went blank on analogue cable, a last-ditch effort was made by cable operators in Mumbai to push digitisation behind by two months so that they could place set-top boxes (STBs) in consumer homes.

Fear of losing customers to direct-to-home (DTH) service providers due to switching off of signals to analogue cable homes across the city brought hundreds of cable operators together under one roof.

The meeting was called by Mumbai Cable Operators Association (MCOA) headed by Shiv Sena Member of Legislative Council Anil Parab to protest against the Union Government‘s tough stance of not extending the sunset date for first phase of digitisation.

Desperate for more time, the MCOA is also planning to move Supreme Court hoping to get some relief from the apex court. The cable operators had to face disappointment on Wednesday as the Bombay High Court refused to extend the digitisation deadline by pointing out that the operators were given time in June to seed the set-top boxes (STBs).

MCOA president Parab demanded that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) should give at least two months time to cable operators to seed the boxes. He also said that the government‘s decision to switch off signals to analogue homes has resulted in 600,000 black homes.

"The broadcasters have switched off signals due to which 600,000 homes have gone black," Parab told reporters after the meeting of cable operators.

He also cautioned the government that if things continue as they are it would disrupt law and order situation as the development comes close to the festive season.

The MCOA is planning a protest march to the Collector‘s office to demand security for cable security. Parab called on cable operators from across the city to converge at the Collectors Office in Bandra at 11 am on Friday.

Earlier, he also accused the government of working under the pressure of broadcasters to force digitisation down the throats of common people who are already bearing the brunt of inflation.

Parab was, however, quick to add that the cable operators were not opposed to digitisation, "We (cable operators) are fully committed to digitisation. All we are asking for is that the government should give us at least two months time so that there is smooth transition from analogue to digital," he said.

He also said that the 31 December deadline would be sacrosanct and there would be no going back after that deadline, "We will switch off signals to analogue homes after 31 December, the government wouldn‘t even need to intervene," he stated.

While asking the government to sort out issues like revenue share between MSOs and LCOs, he also said that the government had deliberately kept the cable operators out of the Task Force.

He also demanded the State government to bring down the entertainment tax in the state, "Our demand is that the entertainment tax should be decreased. If there is an entertainment tax of Rs 45 after December, we will organise a massive protest," he warned.

"The cable operators don‘t have any representation in the Task Force set up by the government. The MSOs were instead representing the cable operators due to which our interests were not taken into consideration," he told the gathering.

Parab also pointed out that Kolkata operators are not adhering to the MIB‘s diktat and analogue homes there continue to receive signals. The deadline in Chennai, he said, has already been extended till 5 November. Even Delhi, he claimed, was not adhering to switching signals.

"Why should only Mumbaikars suffer from the government‘s tough stance," he questioned adding that Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray and executive president Uddhav Thackeray have directed him to ensure that the interests of cable operators are taken care of and ordinary Mumbaikars don‘t suffer due to television blackout.

The MCOA president also smelled conspiracy in the government‘s stand of not extending the deadline. "The government wants to benefit DTH operators at the cost of cable operators. If a lot of cable homes go blank, there is a possiblity of customers switching to digital but we won‘t allow that to happen," he averred.

Supporting Parab‘s stance cable operators who had gathered at the venue for a show of solidarity said that extending deadline was inevitable as there are many problems to be sorted out despite seeding of STBs.

"The customers don‘t know what packages are available and how much they have to pay. Shortage of boxes (STBs) is another problem. Like I am under DigiCable and they don‘t have STBs," said an operator from South Mumbai.

Stanley Edward of International Digital Services said that he is yet to receive a DAS licence despite applying for it in September. IDS operates in the Kalachowkie area and has 60 cable operators under its belt.

"We have invested close to Rs 7 crores (Rs 70 million) for setting up digital control room and buying 7,500 STBs but we can‘t go ahead since we haven‘t received the DAS licence yet," Stanley rued.

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