Although, the last date for Phase-IV is 31st March, less than a month ahead and it may be impossible to complete this phase in time, yet the Ministry Officials are adamant in declaring the Phase closed on 31st March irrespective of the problems faced by stakeholders projected from time to time. In reality, the Ministry is not interested to organize the cable TV industry comprising of thousands of small cable operators and instead, wants to invite large national and international companies to take over the industry and make large investments to help the government collect huge revenue from them. The way Ministry has tried to get all the court cases filed in various High Courts to be transferred to Delhi and get dismissed en masse, indicates that it has no intention to solve the problems faced by the industry. In fact, it has been openly said by the Ministry officials that if a cable TV network cannot be connected to a digital feed due to any technical or other reason, subscribers of the network could shift to any DTH service provider.
Broadcaster’s dominance in the corridors of the government is no hidden fact. In fact, the Ministry officials including the I&B Minister have a soft corner for the large broadcasters as it does not want to bring them under any regulation. All violations of existing laws and regulations by the broadcasters are often ignored. Broadcasters have even challenged TRAI regulations and TRAI’s jurisdiction to regulate the tariff for their content. Even the cap on advertisement duration is subjudice for the last three years, although it is a rule in the Cable Television Act and the Ministry has even come forward to support these broadcasters in the court.
The problems in Phase-III and IV are numerous as given in the subsequent paras.
Infrastructure and Connectivity
The rural India is yet to be connected with fibre optic cables to extend digital MSO networks to these areas. India’s ambitious project of NOFN, now known as BharatNet is not yet functional in spite of it being started in 2011, at the same time when Cable digitization had commenced.
The project was to connect 2,50,000 gram panchayats with optical fibre connectivity with an estimated expenditure of 70,000 crores. Although about 2 lakh km of cable has already been laid, the last mile connectivity is still lacking.
The initial time target of completing the task was December 2012 which was later shifted to December 2016 and now further extended to December 2020. The MSOs have requested the regulator, to allow infrastructure sharing in Phase-III and IV but TRAI is still in the process of consultation and yet to file its recommendations.
Shortage of Financial Resources
In 2015, our Prime Minister Shri Modi met media honchos in the US, led by Rupert Murdoch, the Media Moghul, better known for Phone Tapping scandal in the UK and had agreed to allow 100% FDI in broadcasting, however national MSOs have failed to attract any FDI to fund the gigantic task of digitization of all cable networks.
Whatever FDI is coming, it is for the large broadcasters who keep increasing their number of channels and adding more genres in their bouquets to increase their profits. Unfortunately, FTA channels run by small broadcasters are losing the battle going out-of-service for some reason or the other. Small operators and MSOs operating in rural areas are short of funds for buying STBs. It’s an irony that PM Modi is ready to invite NRIs and large foreign companies to invest dollars in the country giving them all incentives including tax holidays, subsidies and providing ease-of-doing business but the existing enterprises in the Cable Television industry are fighting to be recognized as a telecom infrastructure to come at par with the telecom companies but no one listens. Unfortunately, the Ministry has done nothing to facilitate funding of these networks who are forced by law to make heavy investments for digitization.
Availability of STBs and Equipment
‘Make in India’ has remained a dream for the broadcast industry as a few indigenous STB manufacturers who started their ventures to help digitization are not getting any demand from large players. All actions of the government to make things better for the industry come very late, and in practice, don’t help the industry in any way. Due to excise and custom duty structure, taxes and inability to provide long-term credit facility, manufacturers are unable to compete in the international market.
No National Broadcast Plan
The government has not drawn a National Broadcast Plan till date to help the industry grow in a systematic way. Even after 25 years of existence, the industry has remained unorganized and dominated by a few large companies. The public broadcaster Prasar Bharati has a plan which never gets implemented and its target of digitization keeps getting shifted ahead.
As a last minute reaction to facilitate the MSOs, the Ministry, through an office memorandum, has declared all valid provisional MSOs registrations, unless cancelled/suspended subsequently, to be treated as deemed regular registrations for a period of 10 years from the date of issuance of respective provisional registration. However, if the continuation of registration of any MSO is at any time found to be or considered detrimental to the security of the State, then the registration so granted is liable to be cancelled/suspended. All other terms and conditions depicted in the provisional registration lette(s) wlll continue to apply.
Vide MIB order no. 2/108/2015-DAS dated 27 .01.2017 the Ministry has also decided that all registered MSOs are free to operate in any part of the country, irrespective of registration for specified DAS notified areas. However, they have to submit the details of Headend, SMS, subscribers list and a self-certificate that they are carrying all the mandatory TV Channels, within six months from date of issuance of MSO registration, to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, failing which the MSO registration is liable to cancelled/suspended.
There are 952 provisionally registered MSOs making a total of 1158 MSOs in the country. The pace of registration has been very slow as there is little awareness in the far flung areas.