Broadcasters ready to extend existing analogue agreements in view of tardy pace of agreements, DAS Task Force told

New Delhi: With less than three months to go for the deadline of Phase III of Digital Addressable System, the Indian Broadcasting Foundation has said that broadcasters are ready to extend the existing analogue interconnect agreements with multisystem operators for transition from analogue to digital service in view of the slow progress in signing of interconnect agreements.

 The commitment was made in the last meeting of the Task Force set up by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry in its meeting on 22 September. The minutes of the meeting were placed on the Ministry website today.

The meeting was presided over by special secretary J S Mathur who asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to convene a meeting of broadcasters and MSOs resolve issues. (It may be recalled that TRAI had earlier asked both broadcasters and MSOs to approach it in case of any problems with regard to interconnect agreements.

Referring to the low number of interconnect agreements, Mathur remarked that without signing of agreements between broadcasters and MSOs, the progress on digitisation was not possible.

Agreeing there had been slow progress in signing of agreements with major MSOs as the latter were awaiting the decision in a case before the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Arbitration Tribunal, the IBF said broadcasters had signed provisional agreements with many applicant operators, who have digitised their networks under the condition that they would get registered as MSOs for DAS operation before the cut-off date for Phase III.

IBF was asked to submit an area-wise list indicating the status of signing of agreements to the Ministry. The meeting was told that just 62 of the 300-odd multi system operators had signed agreements with broadcasters.

Mathur expressed his gratitude to the Indian Broadcasting Foundation for developing the advertisement on cable TV digitization in Phase lll areas and airing it on their member channels. He said All India Radio and Doordarshan were already giving advertisements on cable digitisation on their channels and they need to scale it up. The IBF representative said the Ads had been planned in bilingual format but IBF will consider making it multilingual as requested.

Joint Secretary (Broadcasting) R Jaya said as a next step towards publicity awareness campaign, broadcasters and MSOs should now inform the cable TV users in Phase III areas through scroll messages on their channels to get STBs installed in their homes before the cut-off date.

Jaya mentioned that MSOs registration by the Ministry was open. In case broadcasters have entered into agreements with non-registered operators they should ensure that they have applied for MSO registration with MIB. She advised broadcasters to impress upon these operators to immediately register themselves as MSOs with the Ministry failing which they cannot operate digital services.

Meanwhile announcing that the toll free help line is expected to start operating soon, Jaya told the meeting that seven regional workshops had been held so far with Nodal officers in different cities, and these officers had been advised to provide the right of way (RoW) to the MSOs/LCOs under the provisions of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 and also give details of those Phase III areas in their districts where no registered MSO is operating.

The nodal officials were told to disseminate a clear message that the cut off dates are final and the analogue cable viewers should change to digital before the cutoff date.

She said twelve regional units including the central unit in Delhi have been established for monitoring the implementation of DAS Phase III areas under Mission Digitisation project.

Referring to the fact that seven regional workshops had been held so far, she said Nodal officers were being advised to provide the right of way (Row) to the MSOs/LCOs under the provisions of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 and, also intimate Phase III areas in their districts where no registered MSO is operating. The nodal officials were also told to disseminate a clear message that the cut off dates are final and the analogue cable viewers should change to digital before the cutoff date.

The workshops have been held at Chandigarh, Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Bhopal, Shillong and Hyderabad. A workshop at Patna had to be cancelled due to elections in the state. The workshops had been successful in sensitizing the state nodal officers about their role and responsibilities In the pre and post digitization period in phase lll areas.

The Siticable representative said broadcasters have not responded to their requests for interconnect agreements for phase III areas so far and so they are unable to fix the channel package rates and get the SAF and CAF forms filled up from subscribers as required under DAS regulations. He questioned the propriety of running of digital cable service by cable operators without first getting registered from MIB as per the DAS regulations,

The representative of the Telecom Authority of India said it was up to broadcasters and MSOs to continue existing interconnect agreement even after transition from analogue to digital. He added that there was no impropriety in running the digital service by an operator before the cutoff date without registration from the Ministry.

The representative of IMCL said it had signed 60% of interconnect agreements with broadcasters in Phase III areas. Regarding interconnect agreements with other broadcasters they requested TRAI to intervene.

The representative of MOCF mentioned that MSOs were not signing interconnect agreements with LCOs and TRAI should intervene and prescribe a standard interconnect agreement.

A representative of the cable operator association from Assam said since no agreements were being signed in Assam despite requests from MSOs, broadcasters should nominate a nodal officer to deal with the issue at regional level.

ASSOCHAM said it had along with a Cable Operators Federation already started a Chetna Yatra which was planned mandatorily to cover 450 cities sensitizing the consumers and operators alike about the cable digitisation in Phase III areas by 31 December. He added that a comprehensive report on this will be submitted to the Ministry.

Members made various suggestions about the awareness campaign. A representative of the local cable operators association from Assam said that to make this effective, the TV Ads should be in regional languages. He wanted to know whether the Chetna Yatra planned to cover north east also.

A representative of ARTBI said it did not have the facility to dub the ad in different regional languages but said its member channels would run it if this was provided to them.

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