Govt says digitisation in 4 metros by March 2012; sunset date for analogue transmission in India is March 2015

NEW DELHI: The Government has set a deadline of 31 March 2012 for shift to digital addressability in the four metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai while rejecting the sunset date of 31 December 2013 for analogue transmission in the country as recommended by the sector regulator.

The Government has instead decided on a deadline date of 31 March 2015 for shift from analogue to digital systems across the country.

The Government has sent its revised proposal to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India for its comments, before putting it up before the Union Cabinet for approval.
The Information and Broadcasting Ministry has accepted the recommendation of Trai for completing digitisation in four phases, though the deadlines have been altered.

Thirty-five cities with population of more than one million such as Patna, Chandigarh, Pune and Bangalore will be covered in Phase II by 31 March 2013.

All urban areas are expected to be digitised by 30 November 2014, and the rest of the country by the sunset date of 31 March 2015.

Digital cable TV will ensure better picture quality and services, choice of channels and interactive services. The industry will benefit as the move is expected to bring greater transparency in subscriber base and reduction in carriage fees.

Hailing the government decision as a step in the right direction, she said it would end allegations by broadcasters that cable operators suppressing actual subscriber base, Cable Operators Federation of India President Roop Sharma.

At the same time, Sharma did not see the logic in delaying the digitisation beyond the deadline set by Trai.

All India Aavishkaar Dish Antennae Sangh President A K Rastogi welcomed the move saying this would bring in transparency. He said the new dates set by the Ministry would give the cable operators greater time to educate the viewers towards the need to change their set-top boxes (STBs) and also the benefits of digitisation. The allegations of cable operators not revealing their actual subscriber base would also disappear.

Vikki Choudhary of Home Cable Network said it was unfortunate that the Government had unnecessarily delayed its decision on the Trai recommendations. However, he welcomed the decision as he said digitisation would lead to compression and the ability to add more channel capacity. He said the STB prices had already fallen to between Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 and the charges by the cable operators and multi-system operators (MSOs) were unlikely to rise while providing better quality picture and additional channels.  
Even cable operators would be able to help viewers choose the channels of their choice and pay only for those that they watch. They would also have a choice of interactive services like those offered under direct-to-home (DTH) like video on demand, personal video recording, video gaming, music, tele-shopping, electronic programme guide and broadband.

Trai in its recommendations on Implementation of Digital Addressable Cable TV Systems in India had said that Phase I covering the four Metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai should be completed by 31 March 2011. Phase II would cover all the cities having population of over one million by 31 December 2011. The third phase wouldl cover all other urban areas (municipal corporations/municipalities) across the country by 31 December 2012 and the rest of India should be covered by 31 December 2013 in the fourth phase.

Trai had recommended that all service providers who have set up a digital addressable distribution network before the sunset date should be eligible for income tax holiday from 1.April 2011 (or the date of setting up of the network whichever is later) to 31 March.2019.

It had said the basic custom duty should be reduced to zero for all digital headend equipments and STBs), for the next three years; MSOs/LCOs should be given the Right of Way (RoW) permission to lay optical fibre/Cable on non-exclusive basis and MSOs/LCOs to be licensed. The Taxes/levies on the broadcasting distribution sector should be rationalised; and education programmes should be taken up to educate the stakeholders about the benefits of digital addressable cable TV systems.

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