Extension for cable digitisation deadline in Chennai possible: I&B Ministry

NEW DELHI: The Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry On Friday told the Madras High Court that it was prepared to give an extension for implementation of digitisation in Chennai till 31 December provided the stakeholders gave affidavits that they will implement it by then and not seek further extension.

The court extended the stay on digitisation in Chennai till 19 November when it will continue hearing of a petition by Chennai Metro Cable Operators Association (CMCOA) through its general secretary M R Srinivasan, which is seeking extension of digitisation deadline by three months. The court has also sought full details of the number of digital set top boxes available and seeded.

The court had earlier stayed the implementation first on 31 October and then on 5 November.

The commitment in the court on behalf of the Ministry was made by S Haja Mohideed Gisthi, senior central government standing counsel, when Justice N Paul Vasanthakumar said the ministry had itself admitted that only 60 per cent digitisation had been achieved in Chennai.

The Judge reiterated that the concern of the court was not merely the petitioner, but the average consumer in Chennai and wanted the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) and the ministry to specify whether the city had an adequate number of digital STBs and why they had not been installed if this was so.

The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) through its counsel said the broadcasters had put all infrastructure in place for digitisation in the four metros covered under Phase I.

A counsel representing two MSOs said local cable operators had not raised any demand for STBs. However, he said these boxes could be made available in 21 days after placement of an order.

However, counsel for CMCOA sought more time as he said enough time had not been given by TRAI for preparing the required infrastructure.

Gisthi had in the last hearing opposed any extension of the deadline saying the petition had been filed at the eleventh hour. Ever since the policy was unveiled in January 2011, the deadline had been extended thrice, Gisthi said. He said the centre had already entered into an agreement with 11 MSOs in the city and it was their duty to provide sufficient number of STBs.

The petitioner, noting that repeated requests for extension of the deadline was not acceded to by the government, claimed that only 1,64,000 homes had STBs in the southern metropolis and more than three million homes would go blank if the deadline was not extended.

The petitioner also said the multi-system operators did not have enough STBs to be distributed to all households.

Noting that the Tamil Nadu government‘s Arasu Cable Television has entered as the 11th multi-system operator (MSO) in the state, the association said Arasu has invited tenders for supply of one million STBs to meet 25 per cent of the city‘s requirement. Arasu is still in the process of finalising the tender, and even if the delivery of STBs commences now, it will take at least two years for the process to be completed, it claimed. It wanted the court to stay total implementation of the digital addressability system (DAS) in Chennai till the corresponding infrastructure is made available.

Earlier, the ministry had admitted that ‘the pace of seeding has remained somewhat static‘, saying Cable TV digitisation in Chennai was 86 per cent, including 24 per cent coming by way of direct-to-home (DTH).

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