BIS yet to provide tech specs for DTH

NEW DELHI: It's a classic case of so near, yet so far.

The debate over open architecture set top boxes continues even as broadcasters twiddle their thumbs. KU-band direct-to-home (DTH) television service in India is likely take some more time before taking off. The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), which has been mandated to come up with technical specifications for the set-top-boxes (STBs) for DTH, may complete its work only by the end of February 2003.

A senior official of India's information and broadcasting ministry told today that BIS generally takes about 60 days for such issues under a procedure and the final process is yet to start.

"The BIS was asked by the government earlier this year to look into the various technical aspects of STBs for DTH, including the fact whether an open architecture is possible or not. We think that BIS will take 60 days to finalise the issue and the specifications may be conveyed to the government only towards the end of February," the official pointed out.

Though government officials in the ministry are of the opinion that open architecture STBs is a possibility, some people in the BIS feel to the contrary. A senior BIS official told reluctantly, quite content to be vague, that the issue of open architecture is a contentious one and needs to be looked into thoroughly.

Certain circles feel that the BIS probably wants to say that for DTH there cannot be an open architecture, but still is unable to articulate it properly.

From the time the DTH guidelines were announced by the government in November 2000, policymakers and broadcasters, interested in starting a DTH service in India, have been at loggerheads over the open architecture issue. Government's stand has been that such a thing is possible; whereas broadcasters' have held the view that nowhere in the world does open architecture prevail for DTH.

When confronted with this information, the ministry official, however, admitted that "BIS has also not indicated to us that open architecture is not possible."

The official further pointed out: "BIS may have some reservation on the issue, but during our talks it has indicated in a limited way that it may be made possible through technology."

As BIS finally gets down to grapple with the situation, a small hitch has cropped up in the meanwhile which, the ministry official said, may have also contributed to the delay. Until now BIS, which is again part of the Indian government, had been playing the advisory role in various technical aspects relating to broadcasting free of cost. But now the board of the BIS feels that such services should be paid for. "So, we have asked the BIS that it should go ahead with finalising the specifications regarding DTH boxes and the issue of payment for the advisory service can be settled also as part of an intra-governmental affair," the official explained.

In two years' time since the DTH guidelines had been announced, only two companies have applied for a DTH licence. This includes Star's affiliate Space TV and Subhash Chandra's ASC Enterprises Ltd.

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