Govt & Trai should act on time if digitisation deadline is to be met: Stakeholders

NEW DELHI: Participants at a one-day meet to discuss the march towards digitisation agreed that there would be no difficulty in meeting the deadlines if the government and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) complete their tasks in time.

However, some of the members speaking in different sessions of the Casbaa meet ‘Beyond digital‘ did not rule out the possibility of digitisation getting entangled in litigation if adequate steps were not taken till May, since the deadline is 30 June for the first phase covering the four metros.

Some of the other speakers were also anguished that the budget had not brought any cheer either in terms of customs duty holiday on digital set top boxes (STBs) or incentives for indigenous production of the STBs.

Multi-system Operators Alliance president Ashok Mansukhani said the government appeared to have done nothing after the notification. The rules of business were still not clear. For example, it was not known whether MSOs who had the CAS (conditional access system) licences would have to get fresh licences Would cable operators get licenses directly or would the business be transacted as of now through the MSOs, and what exactly will the role of the government be.

He wondered why Trai had issued a second consultation paper when it had as many as 100 responses including 80 from cable operators. He said cable networking had still not been recognised as an industry, and had not been given any tax concessions. While the MSOs had the funding, a level playing field was still missing.

He said though 30 June at present appeared to be a mirage, the industry was prepared to abide if the government got its act together.

Indian Broadcasting Foundation VP and Times Television Network MD & CEO Sunil Lulla said most broadcasters were in the red, and so the pricing has to change. And if digitisation is to help the consumer, then he should be ready to pay more.

He said attempts were on to create TV spots to create awareness about digitisation, but the government must also come forward.

Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI) president Roop Sharma said cable operators had been fighting for digitisation even before the MSOs or broadcasters had done so, but nothing was done to help the last mile cable operator or create awareness among the people. "When I am not even sure I will get content after 30 June or not, why should I spend so much money on infrastructure?" she asked.

The cable operator has to even recover entertainment tax to pass it on to the MSO, she said. She denied charges that the cable TV industry was not organised.

She wanted definite action from the government to get inter-connect regulations, tariff, and STBs.

News Broadcasters Association president K V L Narayan Rao said the race for TRPs will continue until subscription rates improve, but Trai had failed to take a decision in this regard. At the same time, he said good content must also come. He wanted greater unity on the part of the stakeholders in approaching the government.

IPTV India Forum‘s Anil Prakash said IPTV had failed so far because of lack of right of way provisions and initiative of the last mile operator. He wanted the government to pitch in to reach out to the consumer.

DTH Association of India General Secretary Rajiv Khattar stressed the need for implementation. He said tax incentives were needed if the deadline had to be met.

Tata Sky MD and CEO Harit Nagpal said the government had nothing to lose, as it would get taxes; broadcasters stand to earn; and even the MSOs will break even. But it was the DTH which would be hit the hardest. At present, around 30.3 per cent was going in taxes, and DTH had not been included in the Negative List despite a ruling of the Delhi High Court that watching a programme on DTH was like entering a multiplex.

Dish TV CEO R C Venkateish said DTH was still a capital intensive industry struggling to survive, and the ARPUs were low because of under-declaration by the cable operators. Digitisation will help stop that.

Videocon d2H CEO Anil Khera said there was need for a level playing field at a time when over 30 per cent went into taxes. He said the government’s deadline appeared unrealistic but was confident that it could be met. The success of the first phase will set the tone for the other phases, he said.

Indusind Media & Communications Ltd. MD Ravi Mansukhani welcomed the plans for a unified licensing for broadcasting and telecom. He suggested the creation of a fund to help smaller MSOs or cable operators. Though he had at first felt that it would be better to split digitisation into first pay channels and then free to air channels, he felt it was better to go directly into the new technology.

Star Network Vice President (Regulation) Pulak Bagchi and Cisco India’s Sanjay Rohatgi were confident the deadline would be met. Bachi said this was because of the Indian appetite for change, dynamism and productivity of the people.

Hathaway Cable & Datacom MD & CEO K Jayraman said things will work if Trai gets its work done. He said 10 million STBs were needed for the first phase, and 20 million for the second phase. He felt that there was time for the industry to fight for fiscal incentives.

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