Government's digital plot

MUMBAI: It has been on the anvil for quite some time. Senior executives in the broadcast, cable and satellite TV industry have been talking about the Union government pursuing the passage of an executive order to push digitisation of cable TV in India.

Section 4A - which calls for CAS or conditional access systems - was to be done away with and a new regulation enabling the rollout of digital addressable systems in the country was to be introduced. The sunset date for the four major metros is likely to be revised from 31 March 2012 to mid-2012.

Well today, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni announced that the Union Cabinet had indeed cleared the change and the new ordinance would now move to the Indian President for promulgation. She had not announced any further details at the time of writing. But industry and ministry sources say the new regime will permit pay TV or free-to-air TV channels, conditional access systems, subscription management systems and encryption of signals.
The new rules will also permit right of access and way to cable TV operators, and provide infrastructure status to the 60,000 cable TV operators who supply television to the 80 million odd cable TV homes. This apart an enabling provision has also been added to allow for revision of the foreign direct investment limits in CATV, DTH and other distribution platforms.

The department of industrial policy & promotion is slated to issue a note in the coming weeks to allow players in this space to be able to attract 74 per cent equity investment. 
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), on the other hand, has to come with new quality of standards and interconnect regulations to allow for the new digital addressable regime. Sources indicate the MIB has written to the Trai to move ahead on the same, and the latter has responded to it, saying it will be complying. Current Trai rules allow the existence of unencrypted signals, hybrid systems in the CATV space.

Sources indicate that the pricing issue will be dealt with later as the issue is in court. Currently, there are caps on pricing of channels which have been put in place by Trai to ensure that private CATV and DTH operators do not make cable TV too expensive for the lay Indian TV viewer.

"But clearly, the caps will be lifted, allowing broadcasters and platform operators to price their channels at whatever the market can bear," says an observer. "Prices, however, will not go too high as operators will want to increase their subscriber bases. And in the worst case scenario if they do, viewers can always subscribe to DD Direct which is extremely consumer friendly in pricing terms."

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