Govt's decision on digitisation deadline next week: Varma

NEW DELHI: With the clock closing fast on the deadline for the first phase of digitisation, the highly-awaited meeting of the Task Force ended with a whimper today as Information and Broadcasting Ministry said it would take a decision on the demand of deferment of the first phase of digitisation early next week.

The hour-long meeting, presided over by I&B Secretary Uday Kumar Varma, is understood to have been fairly stormy with the cable operators and multi-system operators on the one hand and broadcasters on the other sticking to their respective stands.

The meeting was also attended from the side of the Ministry by Joint Secretary (Broadcasting) Supriya Sahu.

Emerging from the meeting, Varma told newspersons that there was a free and frank discussion of all the issues. He also said the Ministry had heard the viewpoints of all stakeholders, and was in touch with state governments.

It is understood that while the cable operators wanted an extension until December this year, some of the MSOs were agreeable to an extension up to September, citing the shortage of digital set top boxes and the late issuance of the tariff regulations by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai). Some cable operators said that failure to switch to digitisation by 1 July may lead to law and order problems.

Varma said Mumbai was better placed than the other metros to launch digitisation. He said the Government now had a clearer position of the readiness of various stakeholders.

Today‘s meeting was a follow-up of a meeting between stakeholders from different parts of India and I&B Minister Ambika Soni ended with the Government not agreeing to defer the first phase of digitisation in the metros.

The Government had 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 Minister had 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.

Sources close to the Ministry told that with the Bombay High Court taking up the matter on 18 June, Delhi High Court on 20 June and Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal on 25 June, the Government may prefer to wait to get legal directives before
deciding its own option on extending the date.

It is also known that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology has recommended an extension of six months, and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee have written letters seeking extension of the date.

It is also learnt that only around 20 per cent of the set-top boxes needed for the four metros have so far been installed.

Also read:

Govt sticks to digitisation deadline

IndusInd Media moves Tdsat against Trai’s tariff order

Subhash Chandra urges Govt to stick to 30 June deadline

Digitisation deadline: Ambika Soni to meet stakeholders on 8 June

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