No relaxation in sunset date for first phase of digitisation: Govt

NEW DELHI: Information and Broadcasting Secretary Uday Kumar Varma, while reiterating that the sunset dates of the first phase for the metros of 30 June was irrevocable, said today that the regulatory framework including interconnection issues and tariff for cable digitisation would be in place by the end of this month.

Varma said that one million digital set top boxes had already been installed while another 2.5 million were readily available and the process of acquiring the remaining seven million required for the first phase had been put in place with directions issued for importing them.

Earlier last week, Additional Secretary Rajiv Takru had claimed that ten million STBs were already available for the first phase.

Varma described the present phase of growth in broadcasting as very exciting and said the country was on the threshold of a second information revolution which would lead to financial returns and extraordinary benefits. However, he said this was possible only with synergy between the government and the industry while keeping the interest of the common man in perspective. There was need to move with confidence, conviction and purpose.

Delivering the inaugural address at the one-day meet on ‘Beyond Digital’ organised by the Cable and Satellite Broadcasters Association of Asia (Casbaa), he said there was need to sensitise all the stakeholders and the cable operators had to be proactive if this was to be done.

As far as the Government was concerned, the Task Force set up by it for this purpose was meeting every fortnight to review the situation, and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) was also working to finish the work assigned to it.

Meanwhile, he said the public service broadcaster had a definite role in this changing scenario and so special attention was being paid to ensure digitisation in All India Radio and Doordarshan so that it retains its eminence in the media. Special efforts were also on to help Doordarshan’s direct-to-home service, DD Direct Plus, to grow.

Speaking later in the afternoon, Joint Secretary Supriya Sahu said that television spots to promote the awareness about digitisation were ready and would be aired soon on all channels. She wondered why the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) had not come forward to prepare such spots.

Addressing a session on ‘Regulatory Mandate’, she said the rules under the amended Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act had been finalised and would be notified soon. She said regulations have to keep pace with technology but the latter was changing very fast. The aim of the framework was only to create an enabling environment and a level-playing field. She assured the participants that consumers would have no problems if they wanted to change their service providers.

Referring to the large number of regulations and laws in the country on communication, she said there was need of synergy and convergence.

She claimed that the licensing procedure for cable operators and multi-system operators had been simplified under the rules.

Referring to the sunset date of 30 June, she said that the law now provided for punishment for those who did not comply but she was confident that such a situation would not arise since the whole exercise was in the interest of all the stakeholders.

Referring to sensitisation of producers, she said the Broadcast Content Complaints Council had recently held a meeting with creative directors and producers in an attempt to ensure better TV content, which was a very welcome step.

Answering a question about complaints being heard by the Inter-Ministerial Committee, she said these were only relating to channels which not members of the NBA or the IBF.

While asserting that the government wanted the cable sector to flourish, she said in answer to a question that there was no plan at present for creating any fund to help cable operators who did not have the resources for going digital.

Most of the speakers representing MSOs in the various sessions expressed confidence that the country would be able to switchover smoothly and there would be no shortage of STBs.

However, they regretted that the budget had failed to bring any incentives for the cable industry.

The DTH operators were not sure whether entertainment being put in the Negative List would benefit them, though some of them quoted a Delhi High Court judgment which had said watching programmes on DTH was akin to entering a cinema hall.

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