Trai expected to announce tariff order for digital cable by month-end: Takru

NEW DELHI: With less than four months to go before the first phase of digitisation of cable networks in the four metros comes into effect, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has stepped up efforts to create awareness and ensure smooth switchover to digital set-top boxes.

Rajiv Takru, additional secretary in the Ministry, and joint secretary Supriya Sahu today met Delhi Government chief secretary PK Tripathi to work out ways to jointly promote digitisation in the national capital region.

Addressing media later, Takru said the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) is expected to announce its tariff for digital cable by the end of the current month. He said the tariff will indicate the upper limit of the charge per channel, and a cable operator or MSO could even offer lower rates if he so wished. However, the entertainment duty on these will be as set by the states – which is 20 per cent in the case of Delhi.

Takru said in reply to a question that the Ministry was actively consideration giving incentives such as tax rebates on the STBs.

Takru denied any shortage of digital STBs and said there was ample supply for the four metros. He said the fear and perception of shortage of STBs was misplaced. He said there were one million for the NCR region out of a total of 2.8 million STBs available at present. He said the Task Force on digitisation set up by the Ministry last year was meeting every fortnight to review the situation.

The first phase covering the four metros will switch off analogue by 30 June this year, while cities with a population of one million will be covered by 31 March 2013. All urban areas would be covered by 30 September 2014, and the entire country will be covered by 31 December 2014.

The Ministry has created a toll free number, 1800 180 4343, available presently on weekdays to answer any questions related to digitisation. In addition, the Ministry has for the first time resorted to use of social media and created an account on Facebook, / DigitalIndiaMIB not only to disseminate information regarding the issues involved, but also facilitate a two-way flow of information between the Ministry and key stakeholders.

Apart from better picture quality and the possibility of a cable operators being able to show as many channels as the consumer was willing to pay for, Takru said that the new rules contain a must-provide facility under which a cable operator has to provide the channel asked for by a consumer.

He said the Digital Addressable System (DAS) will also ensure transparency with regard to television rating points. He said it was unfortunate that the TRP ratings were dependent on TAM which only covered 8,000 TV homes. As a result, 70 per cent of the TV revenue came from advertisements and only 30 per cent came from subscriptions, as compared to 65 per cent contributed by subscribers and 35 per cent coming from advertisers in other countries.

He said by and large, the STBs would be sourced from the multi-system operators (MSOs) and not cable operators, and therefore the STBs will conform to the technology being used by the concerned MSO. He said there was no inter-portability at present, but the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Act 2011 passed in the winter session had made it clear that any consumer wanting to change his operator could do so by merely returning the STB and taking another STB from the new operator.

Similarly, he said that pricing of the STBs was not a major issue as most MSOs were offering very attractive terms under which a consumer could purchase or even hire a digital STB.

Tripathi said that the aim of the meeting with Ministry officials had been to understand the implications of digitisation and the role the Delhi Government will have to play in this regard. He said it was clear that the cable industry will not be hit in any way by digitisation, contrary to fears expressed by some organisations.

Answering a question, he said that ‘right of way’ as listed in the Act will mean the Delhi Government providing the facility of electricity poles being used for the cable wires, instead of loosely hanging them around over trees and buildings.

Meanwhile, the Facebook account will facilitate exchange of information and clarifications on a wider canvass of public participation, covering a whole gamut of public concerns. It carries answers to some of the frequently asked questions and provides links to other connected organisations. The “Wall” on the account provides an interactive platform and will be a source of useful information for individuals as well as stakeholders like the MSOs and cable operators.

The digital cable TV network has enhanced capability to carry additional innovative services like triple play with broadband, value added service and interactive services.

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