Govt works out roadmap for digitisation of media: Uday Varma

NEW DELHI: The Government claims to have worked out a roadmap for going digital across the media but will announce it after discussions with stakeholders.

Stating this, Special Secretary Uday Varma in the Information and Broadcasting Ministry said that the pubcaster Prasar Bharati has already announced its plans to be fully digitised by 2017.

In an exhaustive keynote address at the Casbaa India Satellite Forum on the theme of ‘On the Digital Edge’, Varma touched on various issues that were causing impediments in the path of digitisation which he said was unavoidable.
He also said that the time frame for digitisation would have to be staggered in view of the large size and number of TV homes and players in the market. For this, it was also necessary to have a suitable regulatory framework in place.

He said the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had already suggested a three-stage process of digitisation: Tier One cities by 2013, Tier Two cities by 2014 and Tier Three cities by 2016. But this needed indepth study and consultation with the stakeholders including cable operators, multi-system operators, and broadcasters.

Listing various issues that needed to be sorted out, he said tax and duty structures needed to be rationalised; indigenous production of set top boxes has to be stepped up; the role of the cable operators vis-?-vis collecting bills has to be cleared; the need for analogue and digitisation to co-exist for some time, at least in the cable sector, has to be worked out; the effect of digitisation on other services like telephony and video have to be worked out; and a system of licensing of cable operators as against registration has to be worked out.

Apart from this, several cases were pending in courts and before Tdsat on issues relating to inter-comnection.

Noting at the outset that the mood in the media and entertainment sector was upbeat if one went by the KPMG report revealed at Ficci Frames last week with a CAGR of 13 per cent in the next five years to touch Rs 1.1 trillion, he claimed that it was the policy framework of the government which had helped this sector to achieve this growth.

He said the announcements relating to Phase III of FM Radio and Mobile TV were at an advanced stage. Trai had made its recommendations on mobile TV but the Ministry had sought certain clarifications in January, and these were awaited.  
He said digitisation was also necessary to bring in greater transparency, but a balance had to be drawn between the 16 million DTH homes and 69 million cable TV homes. It was, therefore, difficult for digitisation to replace analogue in the first phase.

Referring to Cable Access System, he said the proposed spread to another 55 cities over the next three years will help increase digitisation through mandatory/voluntary spread of Cas. But a proper system of tariff will have to be put in place.

On taxation, he said a Committee headed by him after the last State Information Ministers Meet had made a recommendation for subsuming entertainment duties and VAT into the GST and this was now pending before the Cabinet.

The recent budget had fixed a five per cent customs duty on STBs with complete exemption from special duties. The fixation of customs duty on medium had removed the anomaly of differential taxation, he claimed.

He said the Department of Posts which was presently registering cable operators was prepared to take up licensing, but not enforcement, according to the Trai.

Referring to IPTV, he said the estimated growth was 30,000 in 2008, 2.5 million in 2009 and four million by 2013.

A Committee headed by the Doordarshan Engineering-in-Chief was presently examining the issue of spectrum available for digitisation and growth of the sector.

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