Digitisation ordinance gives right of way to cable ops

NEW DELHI: Though it has refrained from listing the sunset dates for digitisation, the Government has promulgated an ordinance aimed at ensuring that all cable operators carry encrypted signals only through digital set-top-boxes in accordance with the deadlines that have been notified.

The Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Amendment Ordinance 2011, which is an amendment of the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act 1995, is aimed at putting in place the infrastructure to meet the deadlines set by the Government for digitisation of cable TV networks.

The original Act was passed after the Supreme Court in February 1995 ruled that airwaves were public property and an independent body should be set up to regulate their use.

It says that a period of at least six months will be given to the cable TV operators to enable them to install the necessary equipment for transmitting encrypted channels through a digital addressable system, in keeping with the deadlines set for this purpose for various states and cities.

At the same time, the Government reserves the right to direct addition of one or more free-to-air channels in the basic service tier packages being offered by the cable TV operators to ensure a mix of entertainment, information and education.

The Government can, by Gazette notification, lay down the number of channels of Doordarshan or Parliament that will be mandatory. However, in areas where the digital addressable systems have not been introduced, it will be mandatory to carry two Doordarshan terrestrial channels and one Doordarshan regional language channel. Any notifications issued by Prasar Bharati will remain in force till they are rescinded, irrespective of the conditions laid down in the Ordinance.

For the first time, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has been listed as the appropriate authority dealing with cable TV operators. However, it also makes reference to any public authority that may be set up under the Constitution by the centre or state governments or any non-governmental body supported by the Government.

The Ordinance also gives right of way to cable TV operators, but specifying that they can use poles, towers or any ‘above ground contrivance‘ to carry any network infrastructure activity. It says that the operators can lay and establish cable and posts under, over, along and across any immovable property vested in or under control of management of a public authority. This will be subject to reinstatement or restoration of the property or payment of any charges in this connection. 
If any authority wants these cables or posts to be removed, the cable TV operators will do so at their own expense. Furthermore, the Government can lay down appropriate guidelines to enable state government to lay down the mechanisms for this purpose.

The Government has already announced a timetable for complete digitisation of cable television in the four metros by 31 March, 2012. The target date for completely digitising cable sector in cities with population of more than 1 million is September 2014, while the whole country will be fully digitised by December 2014. This will also mean an end to the analogue era and customers of cable networks must have a digital addressable set-top-box irrespective of whether they wish to receive free-to-air or encrypted (pay) channels.

Laying down rules for registering cable operators, the Ordinance says new registration will not be given to any cable operator who fails to transmit or retransmit encrypted TV signals through a digital addressable system from the date notified for the purpose for the area in which he is operating.

The Government has also reserved the right to impose additional conditions for registration keeping in view the sovereignty of the country, its relations with other countries, public order, decency and morality, contempt of court or defamation.

As long as the subscribers have a digital system, the cable TV operator will not have the right to insist of any particular brand.

The Government has also reserved the right to carry out inspections of cable TV operations in any area. The Ordinance also lays down other specifications relating to equipment and miscellaneous directives.

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