No relaxation on DAS Phase II; analogue switch-off in stages

NEW DELHI: Information and Broadcasting Ministry Secretary Uday Kumar Varma today said that the cable television sector would gain much more in the long run from switchover to digital access system than direct-to-home (DTH) television.

Speaking on the sidelines of the India Forum of the Cable and Satellite Broadcasters Association of India which he earlier inaugurated, Varma said that cable TV would be able to provide more value added services than being provided by DTH. He also said there was greater spectrum available to cable TV than DTH.

Earlier while inaugurating the one-day meet on the theme of ‘Digital Visions and Dividends’, he said that there would be no extension of deadline of the second phase of switching off analogue signals on 31 March covering 38 cities.

He claimed that the first phase covering the four metros had been launched successfully despite the court case in Chennai and the initial reluctance in Kolkata.

Varma also claimed that 55 per cent of the Phase II cities had already been digitised and the multi-system operators (MSOs) had just over two million set top boxes in stock and another two million under procurement.

The government was keen that indigenous production of STBs should be encouraged so that the country did not have to depend on countries like Korea and China and the boxes would be BIS compliant.

Referring to Phase III of FM Radio, Varma said that the empowered Group of Ministers chaired by Finance Minister P Chidambaram had cleared the auctioning of 839 channels.

He expressed confidence that all the auctions would be completed within one year and the government will earn revenue of Rs 15 billion.

Casbaa CEO Christopher Slaughter also spoke on the occasion.

Analogue switch off in stages

Supriya Sahu, Joint Secretary in the I and B Ministry in charge of Broadcasting Policy, said at a session later that the government was contemplating an amendment to the DAS rules to go in for switch off of analogue signals in stages after Phase II commences.

She said that some service providers had not given the access forms to the subscribers and this was causing concern, but the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India was examining the issue. It had issued show cause notices to many service providers and was holding a dialogue to ensure smooth switchover.

She said teams of the Ministry were also visiting service providers who had failed to meet deadlines and were helping in creating subscriber awareness. At present, she admitted that revenue flow and consumer bills were still a problem but she was confident that Trai would soon sort this out.

The biggest challenge, she said, was to reach out to every stakeholder and also convince the last mile operator of the benefits of digitisation. The availability of STBs at affordable prizes was another challenge.

But she claimed that the progress in Phase II was smoother than in Phase I. Data was being collected every week and meetings were held regularly with MSOs on the progress.

Answering a question, he wondered why the industry itself did not take the initiative to go digital and the government had to make it mandatory. She denied the claim that the government stood to gain through entertainment tax, as she said this was minimal as against the benefits to the industry. DAS protects the right of every user, she said.

More Niche channels and VAS under DAS

Trai’s Principal Adviser on Broadcasting N Parameshwaran said that one main benefit would be the growth of niche television channels.

He admitted that subscriber forms had not been distributed and this was leading to problems relating to revenue sharing, but Trai was actively looking into this issue.

Answering a question, he said there was enough place in the country for both DTH and cable TV.

Doubling of Customs Duty unwise

IndusInd Media & Communications Ltd managing director Ravi Mansukhani wondered why the government had doubled the customs duty on imported STBs at a time when an adequate number of indigenous boxes were not available. This would also complicate the issue since the imported boxes have to first get the BIS certification.

DEN Networks Chairman and MD Sameer Manchanda said India had overtaken many other countries in undertaking DAS in a smooth manner despite complexities. Digitisation was irreversible and therefore all stakeholders had to get together to resolve the issues involved.

Indian Broadcasting Foundation President and Multi Screen Media CEO Man Jit Singh said that the most crucial achievement was transparency in financial deals. He said it was necessary that MSOs are helped in putting up STBs as the average revenue per user (ARPU) was bound to go up. He also felt that the TV industry which was heavily dependent on advertising may also see a change in its revenue models.

CSG International Vice President (Product management) Chad Dunavant said that the process had taken much longer in the United States. He also said that India had an advantage as it would be able to offer more VAS and already had more variety of channels.

Raising of FDI Negated

Star India President and General Counsel Deepak Jacob said the raising of foreign direct investment sector on the one hand and then coming down heavily on cross media ownership would create a major problem for growth.

IndiaCast Group CEO Anuj Gandhi said the biggest challenge was to involve the last mile operator, while Essel Group President (legal affairs) Avnindra Mohan said the biggest advantage had been the change in mindset of the consumer. He also said that cable TV had greater bandwidth than DTH.

He said that MSOs would work harder to make Phase II a success, while learning from the mistakes of Phase I.

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