Govt gives 15 days grace for phase II cable TV digitisation

NEW DELHI: Ever since the ministry of information and broadcasting ministry announced that it was enforcing 31 March 2013 for Phase II cable TV digitization and switch-ff of analogue signals in 38 cities in 14 states, there have been yelps from state government chief ministers and cable TV operators, and MSOs all over.

Media reports were that a large number of viewers in these cities are grappling with blank TV screens as cable TV operators have not been able to speedily provide the set top boxes (STBs) needed to digitize. Some state governments went so far as to ask for a six-month extension to the digitization deadline. A couple of high courts – in Karnataka and Gujarat – had already agreed to a week long postponement in late March and on 1 April

Late last night, according to a PTI report, the government heard the protesters’ pleas and said it would go slow on enforcing the black out of analogue signals. While categorically stating that the deadline was not being extended, information & broadcasting secretary Uday Kumar Varma, said that the industry was being given “a transition time of 10 to 15 days depending on the ground level situation so that there is no inconvenience to the people.”

Reports are that almost 25 per cent of the 16 million households in these cities missed the deadline to switchover to digitized cable TV. The ministry has hence told MSOs and cable TV operators “to switch off the signals in a phased manner and depending on the situation in various cities.”

Says the head of a leading MSO: “It’s good to hear that the government has given us this grace period. During the day there were ghastly reports that nodal officers and SDMs in various cities were threatening cable TV operators and MSOs with arrests if they did not switch off analogue TV signals. This should come as a relief to all of them. As it is we have not been able to sign digital agreements with a majority of broadcasters for these cities. Hopefully we will be able to do something soon.”

Sources indicate that the ground situation in various cities is varied and that the I&B ministry officials would coordinate with the local nodal officers in order to decide the timing and extent of analogue TV switch offs in order to avoid blank TV screens.

Data available with the I&B ministry has revealed that towns which are facing a problem include: Vishakapatnam with 12.8 per cent digitization (out of 500,000 TV homes); Srinagar with 20 per cent, Coimbatore with 28.89 per cent, Jababalpur with 34.87 per cent and Kalyan Dombivili (38.59 per cent). Seven of the 38 cities had achieved 100 per cent plus digitization: Ludhiana, Hyderabad, Faridabad, Allahabad, Amritsar, Chandigarh and Jodhpur — reported 100 per cent digitisation while three others — Thane, Meerut and Jaipur — had 90 per cent plus.

Varma’s announcement came a little after reported that cable TV operators had got a reprieve in the Andhra Pradesh high court too. Justice M V Ramanna had directed DAS to be stayed for two weeks and the case is expected to be heard on 15 April. The order came on a petition by the Greater Hyderabad Cable TV Operators Association which took the position that there was no clarity regarding the availability of STBs.

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