Technology

Kolkata misses DAS deadline the third time

NEW DELHI: West Bengal government is again headed for a showdown with the Information & Broadcasting Ministry as the deadline for compulsory switchover to digital cable ends today, the third time since digitisation in the four metros was notified.


The Multi-System Operators (MSOs) have been given strict instructions by the state government against switching-off analogue signals to cable TV homes.


According to TAM, around 70 per cent of TV homes in Kolkata have gone digital by mid-December. Going by industry estimates, 25-30 per cent homes are still to be seeded with set-top boxes (STBs) required to receive signals of television channels in digital mode.


West Bengal Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim has made it clear that the central government cannot force cable operators in Kolkata to switch to digital addressable systems.


The minister has also warned of action against operators who switch-off analogue signals, which will lead to television sets going blank with no STBs.
 
He said, "The Centre cannot arbitrarily announce these deadlines for compulsory switchover to digital signals. We have written to the Centre and emphasised that such an exercise can only be attempted through a proper dialogue, but we have not received any response."


Hakim said I&B ministry is yet to respond to the letters by him and the state‘s Chief Secretary Sanjoy Mitra on the matter.


While analogue signals of some television channels would continue, the number of channels being carried by MSOs in analogue has reduced significantly. The MSOs had begun the process of switching off of analogue signals from 16 December. The Bengali language channels were expected to go dark by 27 December.


"While we have switched off a lot of channels but at the same time we have to do a balancing act," an executive from a leading MSO said on the condition of anonymity.


The executive said the off-take of STBs for installing in cable TV homes has been very good and complete switchover is only a matter of time.


Echoing his sentiment, an executive from another MSO said, "We have to go along with the I&B Ministry as well as the state government. In the last one month, STB seeding progressed very smoothly."


The executive said the state government has called for a meeting in the first week of January to take stock of the situation.


Cable operators in the city told Indiantelevision.com that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had been a member of the Union Cabinet when it had decided to go in for digitisation in four phases, beginning with the metros.


But now the operators felt they were being put in an awkward situation with the centre and the state at loggerheads on the situation.


"We have to operate in West Bengal and it will not be prudent to act against the instructions of the state government. But if the MSOs do not follow the directives of the Centre then they risk losing their licences," said Cable & Broadband Operators’ Welfare Association Secretary Swapan Chowdhury. 
 
It must be noted that the original deadline for the first phase of digitisation in the four metros was 30 June which was extended to 31 October by the ministry to allow MSOs more time to prepare.


While Mumbai and Delhi adhered to the 31 October deadline by switching off analogue signals (although pirated signals were available in many parts of Delhi), in Kolkata the signals were not switched off by MSOs on the state government‘s diktat.


After maintaining a studied silence on the issue for more than a month, the ministry had finally cracked the whip on Kolkata MSOs to switch off analogue television signals in a phased manner in Kolkata by 27 December.


Meanwhile, broadcasters have begun carrying scrolls on their channels about the 38 cities that will be digitised in the second phase by 31 March even as Chennai is yet to be digitised.

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