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Emergency plan in place, cable operators are prepared to counter Covid

Some of them have again initiated work from home.

KOLKATA: During the Covid2019 outbreak last year, cable operators in India served the country’s entertainment and infotainment needs as an essential service. It was not easy to operate in a lockdown for an industry that involves huge on-ground operation as well as close contact with consumers. From running out of inventories to fall in payment collection, the operators face an array of issues. Now, with the country feeling the heat of the second wave, the industry says it is better prepared than last year.

Fastway Transmissions group CEO Prem Ojha said that the MSO is not facing any issue presently, because only a few parts of the country like Delhi and Mumbai have been significantly impacted. Most of the other geographies are normal right now, barring weekend and night curfews in some places. He noted that field activity gets very limited post 10 pm, right up to 6 am in the morning anyway. Hence, there is no such disruption as of now.

Although Ojha is uncertain how things will pan out with cases on the rise, the leeway of being part of essential services will play in their favour. But partners and teams have to brave it out, risking their own health to continue to serve, added.  The company already has a contingency plan with the right amount of technical support and equipment in place should matters turn more critical.

“There will be some hardship but the work will carry on. It will be a challenging scenario but nothing will get stalled. This time people are braver, more confident than last year. Uncertainty factor is lesser compared to last year,” he said.

GTPL Hathway cable TV head & chief strategy officer Piyush Pankaj acknowledged that due to the looming possibility of a lockdown, certain problems are creeping back. But they have experience on how to deal with the crisis, and the company is well prepared for the situation, he asserted. Since Covid cases began to surge in late March, efforts are underway to cope with the issues.

PPE kits are ready for staff, digital payments have been established. Moreover, customer communications are being taken care of through online and telephonic medium rather than in-person visits. “We have already taken precautions on ground. We are not facing the mounting problem that we faced last time,” he summed up.

As of now, the situation on their end is under control, said Siti Networks CEO Anil Malhotra. While the Covid curve began peaking 10-15 days back, the MSO has not seen any major impact so far. However, more operators and staffs are getting affected. Unfortunately, people were not being cautious this time, which will further compound problems, he mused. The company has already started telling people how to take precautions, and is helping those who are suffering.

“It can’t get worse than last year. We have learnt in 2020 how to work with little or skeleton staff. This time, I am more worried about our staffs and it would be great if the government can insure these people,” Maharashtra Cable Operators Federation president Arvind Prabhu highlighted.

Despite the sector’s resolute outlook, operational challenges have already cropped up. Although the government has issued a notification where cable service is categorised as essential services, transport is becoming an issue. There is also the risk of infection. At present, operators are rotating the staffs so all of them don’t fall sick and in case someone falls sick, they have backup, Prabhu mentioned.

Other than workforce issues, the industry faced shortage in inventory and other supply chain issues during lockdown. The same situation is playing out again; there was no disposable income to purchase stock in advance, as cable operators took a 40 per cent hit in revenue last year, Prabhu pointed out. Apart from some of the big players, no one else has kept inventory ready.

Fastway’s Ojha highlighted a significant trend. With more offices being closed again, the incremental demand for broadband is going up. That traction is visible now, Ojha added. The demand will further go upwards, and therefore the operator is ensuring inventory and other things are in place so they can meet the demand.

Some of the major MSOs have started work-from-home provision again. One-third of GTPL Hathway’s staff is working from home currently. Siti Networks has also initiated WFH option for non-critical employees and is providing necessary apparatus for that. While all Fastway workers are operating from home, the company is being flexible with employees who are travelling from containment zones or showing any Covid symptom. All of them are ready to ask more staff to work from home if the situation deteriorates.

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