The Ministry on 23 December issued a press release extending the cut-off date for Phase III of Cable TV Digitisation to 31 January 2017 cut-off date for Phase IV covering rest of India has been shifted to 31 March 2017. Although Ministry blames the court proceedings initiated by the small MSOs and Cable Operators for causing the delay, it refuses to accept that there is neither adequate preparation not enough resources to complete the process even by March 2017.
In Phase III areas, digitisation in remaining urban areas in the country was to be completed by 31 December, 2015. However, some MSO associations/individuals had moved various High Courts and obtained either extension of cut-off date / stay on the operationalisation of the notifications of the ministry dated 11 November 2011 and 11 September 2014.
The matter was raised before the Supreme Court by the ministry, which transferred all the cases to the Delhi High Court for hearing in an order on 1 April 2016. The Delhi High Court disposed of most of the cases, and the ministry said, “It is very likely that the remaining cases would also be finally disposed of in very near future.”
The ministry will be issuing instructions to all the broadcasters, multi-system operators (MSOs), local cable operators (LCOs) and the authorised officers to ensure that no analog signals would be transmitted over the cable networks in Phase III areas after 31 January 2017.
The ministry also made clear that no further extension of time would be allowed.
The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Act, 2011, made it mandatory for switch-over of the existing analogue Cable TV networks to Digital Addressable System (DAS) in four phases.
According to the Ministry, Digital switch-over has already taken place in Phase-I and II areas, but in reality much more is needed to be done. If the basic objective of Digitisation to provide choice of content at reasonable price to consumers and total transparency of distribution and billing is not achieved, it cannot be called completed. So far only digital STBs have been forced on consumers. No MSO is generating itemised billing for consumers, providing them content of their choice as stipulated in the TRAI regulations.
No broadcaster is adhering to ad cap rule created in consumer interest and all TRAI tariffs have been challenged in the courts. Even the minutes of the latest Task Force meeting reveal that interconnection agreements are not being signed by broadcasters and MSOs, public awareness campaigns are inadequate and ineffective and ' Make in India' campaign for using indigenous STBs has failed and MSOs are depending mostly on imports. TRAI is still in the process of framing new tariff orders.
Out of about 6000 MSOs existing in analogue era prior to 2011, only 1300 MSOs are registered for digital services till date. Regulations created for digitisation deter the small MSOs and independent Cable Operators to register particularly in the areas where population density is low. These far off places are not economically viable for connecting by large MSOs who do not have funds to extend their infrastructure.
DTH operators, although not part of the Cable TV Digitisation, were expected to capture all the smaller markets, even in the hinterlands but they also have a limited capacity to market, distribute and manage subscribers in these areas. According to the market experience of last five years, they can at the most connect a million subscribers in a month and estimated 60 million subscribers are yet to be connected with digital signals. This also includes Tamil Nadu market where it is the State Government that runs the cable TV but it has not been given a DAS licence as TRAI’s recommendations do not permit state governments to run any broadcasting venture.
Once the government becomes adamant to close the analogues signals on 01 April 2017, millions of subscribers may be deprived of their television content and thousands of small operators running analogue signals will lose their livelihood.