Technology

Govt sticks to digitisation deadline

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: The much-hyped meeting between stakeholders from different parts of India and Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni ended with the Government not agreeing to defer the first phase of digitisation in the metros.


Stakeholders were generally left with the impression that the government will consider all points of view before any final decision and this would be conveyed to them after the Task Force meeting on 15 June.


The Government distributed a questionnaire to the stakeholders wanting to know the status of progress in terms of number of set top boxes distributed, agreements signed and so on. The government wants the replies over the next two to three days so that these can be taken up at the Task Force Meeting.


The meeting held in Vigyan Bhavan to prevent media presence was attended from the side of the Ministry by Soni, Secretary Uday Kumar Varma, Additional Secretary Rajiv Takru who heads the Task Force, and Joint Secretary (Broadcasting) Supriya Sahu.


It is learnt that the Minister made it clear that the onus of implementing digital addressable system was on the stakeholders and not on the government which had facilitated the process in every way. However, she did take note of the fact that some Chief Ministers and stakeholders had written to her, and the matter was pending in some High Courts.


Around 60 stakeholders – a majority of them cable operators and multi-system operators – attended the meet which lasted around three hours. They included Hathway Cable & Datacom MD & CEO K Jayaraman, IndusInd Media & Communications MD Ravi Mansukhani, Digicable MD & CEO Jagjit Kohli and Arasu Cable TV Corporation MD Thiru D Vivekanandan. Dish TV MD Jawahar Goel was also present, perhaps representing Wire and Wireless (India) Ltd (WWIL).


Vivekanandan said Arasu had just floated a tender for set-top boxes (STBs) and it would be ready for digitisation by 31 December. The Government should consider extending the deadline to 1 January. Arasu is state-owned and plans to roll out digital services in Chennai. Incidentally, Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa has written to the Government asking for an extension in the DAS deadline.


The independent cable operators sought an extension of six months for the first phase, citing the shortage of digital set top boxes, the late issuance of the tariff regulations by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), the high carriage fee and the non-viability of the DAS.


Some MSOs wanted extension of at least three months, a participant who attended the meeting said on condition of anonymity.


Cable operators said that failure to switch to digitisation by 1 July may lead to law and order problems.


The broadcasters were represented by heaveyweights like Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (Zeel) MD and CEO Punit Goenka, Star India CEO Uday Shankar, NDTV executive vice-chairperson KVL Narayan Rao and Times Television network MD and CEO Sunil Lulla, among others.


"The broadcasters vehemently opposed any shift in deadline and said that even a minor delay would send wrong signals to the industry. Sticking to the deadline would ensure that set-top boxes would move fast," a source who attended the meeting said.


Direct-to-home (DTH) service providers were not invited for the meeting.


Soni was firm on sticking to the deadline but said that the final decision would be conveyed by 15 June. She also said that cable operators had moved the High Courts in Delhi and Mumbai but a final verdict was pending.


Soni also said that the STB penetration was not satisfactory and emphasised that cable networks needed to do a lot of work on that front.

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