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MIB's digital deadline dilemma: to relax or not

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NEW DELHI: India’s ongoing cable digitalisation, plagued by court cases resulting in roll-out delays, may have just got entangled with the short to medium-term inconveniences caused by demonetisation of high-value currency notes signalling likely further delays.

The ministry of  information and broadcasting (MIB), grappling with the issue of delays, was served with another likely roadblock when the the Telangana state government requested postponement of  the digital deadline of 31 December, 2016, at a stakeholders’ meeting on 29 November 2016.

As per the government mandate, the sunset date for all analog television services in the country is 31 December, 2016, which would have signalled completion of Phase IV of the digital addressable system (DAS) rollout.

While grudgingly admitting that the government is seized of the inconveniences caused due to demonetisation, a government official told indiantelevision.com that in view of the prevailing situation in the country and a major portion of Phase IV areas (about 60 per cent) still to be seeded with digital STBs, the government is unable to take a decision whether to hold on to year-end deadline or relax it.

“The court cases filed by cable operators (relating to DAS Phase III and IV) have been a cause of a major delay and the situation arising out of demonetisation has further added to government’s dilemma,” a senior government official explained.

At the monthly DAS Task Force meeting of stakeholders at MIB, chaired by the ministry’s additional secretary, not only the representative of the state of Telangana voiced his concern on the digital deadline of 31 December, 2016 requesting postponement, but some MSOs and Indian STB manufacturers too expressed their apprehensions.

The Telangana state government’s proposal was opposed by a majority of those present in the meeting. Their concern: any official postponement of the sunset date of 2016 would send wrong signals, and may further derail the digital rollout. MIB is understood to be studying all the feedback before announcing its official position on the deadline.   

Though, according to MIB, officially Phase IV of DAS is progressing as per schedule, a section of the cable industry estimates that approximately 10 million homes, part of DAS Phase III, are still to be seeded with STBs.

The court cases relating to DAS in Delhi High Court have had several adjournments on grounds of technicalities.

Information and broadcasting minister of state Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore admitted in the Parliament that DAS may get delayed. “As per Cable TV Rule, the cut-off date for complete digitisation is 31 December 2016. As such, all cable subscribers in the country should take STBs (set-top boxes) before this date to continue avail cable TV services. However, due to court cases the implementation may get delayed,” the Minister said in Lok Sabha or Lower House of Parliament earlier this week.


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