What we need in the country is a robust broadband networks which the cable TV industry is capable of giving. This will also fulfill our dream of Digital India, giving a boost to our economy. However, completely opposite of this is happening. Government's focus in digitisation has shifted from broadband to helping every television channel to reach consumers. This is helping some large media groups to create monopolies in the markets through their vertically integrated companies.
Racing against time, the MIB is trying to register as many MSOs as possible before the Phase III deadline of 31 December 2015. Out of a total of 550 MSOs registered till date 318 have been registered in the last five months only. At the end of Phase II (31 Mar 2013) there were only 115 registered MSO.
In a recent report uploaded by TRAI on its website, it was found that nearly 140 Pay TV channels have gone against the Standards of Quality of Service Regulations by failing to stick to the advertisement code set out in the Cable Television Networks Rules 1994. According to the quarterly report received by TRAI from the broadcasters, nearly 101 general entertainment television channels and 39 news channels aired more than 12 minutes of advertisements (both commercial and self promotional) per hour between 23rd February and 1st March this year. Out of these, six news channels aired more than 20 minutes of ads per hour during its prime time starting from 7pm to 10 pm. However, the figures mentioned here constitutes only a part of the industry, while most of the channels have failed to submit their report.
The NDA government is all set to revive the Convergence Bill in a bid to give India's telecom, internet and television sectors a super regulator that may seek to replace TDSAT with a new appellate body called the Communications Appellate Tribunal and scrap the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.
There are lots of speculations in the market regarding success of DAS implementation. The ambitious process that started in January 2012 and was to be completed by December 2014, is not even 50% complete. Out of about 130 million households, only 30 million have been digitized till date. That too for the name sake, as only the STBs have been seeded and the digital processes meant to create transparency, choice to the consumers, financial benefits to all stake holders including the government and help increase the broadband penetration in the country, giving a boost to the National economy, are not even visible anywhere. Yet, the government likes to pat itself for its success.
Three years have gone by and we do not see the end to gigantic task the government undertook to digitise the entire cable TV industry connecting 120 million household. Although initially, overambitious bureaucrats in the I&B Ministry as well as TRAI thought they could force an unorganized industry to embrace the new technology within two years, disregarding the massive expenditure it involves and the huge requirement of basic consumer equipment, STB, that were required, the deadline for the final switch-off of analogue signal has now been extended to 31 December 2016. These bureaucrats may go out of service much before the deadline, but I have my doubt if we can meet these new deadlines, particularly considering that the hastily framed regulations are stuck in the Courts, being challenged by various stake holders. On paper we have made digitization a huge success so far but the Industry knows the sufferings it will endure for many years.
Although TRAI has been given the task of regulating the broadcast industry since 2004, it has not proved its mettle in doing so. Every regulation and tariff order issued by TRAI has been challenged in the courts and stayed. Industry is still in chaos and every stakeholder is taking the system for a r ide. The situation is back to the origin of the industry when it was like the ‘Wild West’ where powerful and moneyed people ruled. It is becoming clear that all policies of Digitisation have failed to be implemented. No government can force 600 million people to migrate to a new technology by showing a stick.
With the new government in place we should expect drastic changes in the way I&B Ministry is functioning, including its fast forward drive to digitalise cable TV Networks. Indications are that the present Government has a different approach to many issue in the media. Its overall approach is consistent with BJP manifesto before the elections where more emphasis was given to the welfare of the masses rather than please the corporate.
Policy of Digitisation is good on the whole. It was essential to go digital to keep up with the times for better quality, more choice, transparency, more Tax revenue, credibility in subscriber numbers and most important, to implement broadband on cable to enhance national economy. However, flaws in the Policies and misplaced priorities let it down.
It is quite surprising to see the recommendations of the Expert Committee as all across the globe public broadcasters are going for digital terrestrial transmissions to save on spectrum but in India the committee has preferred satellite television which is highly cost intensive and uses more spectrum and scarce transponder space. Some of the points that are worth considering before taking a final decision are given below:-
After having failed to pressurize MSOs and LCOs, TRAI is now trying to pressurize the consumers threatening to cut off their cable connections if they don’t submit their consumer application forms (CAF) to their respective cable operators / MSOs. 25 June was the last date of the warning to 9-10 million subscribers whose forms have not been submitted yet. Now TRAI has extended the last date of CAF submission to 10th July. I&B Ministry’s threatening television campaign in which a group of TV serial actresses ask subscribers to fill up these form with their choice of channels and submit to the MSOs or else lose their television connections has also had little effect on the consumers. Earlier, notices were given to MSOs and LCOs by TRAI and in spite of some MSOs having assured TRAI of timely compliance, not much could be achieved. Eight months have passed after declaration of successful completion of Phase-I by the I&B Ministry and hardly 50% CAF forms have been submitted. According to market sources only a single package with some popular channels has been activated for all consumers irrespective of what choice has been given by them.
At a time when country's GDP is dipping below 5% and government is in a frenzy to find some quick solutions before the general elections next year, some broadcasters, DTH players and MSOs are laughing all the way to the bank raking in the moolah of Digitisation, thanks to the team of I&B Secretary Uday Kumar Verma who managed an excellent report from hurriedly implemented digitalisation in the cable TV industry surpassing all records in the international market for such attempts.
Col. KK Sharma
According to a report presented to parliament by information & broadcasting minister Manish Tewari on 26 April, the level of cable television digitisation in 38 cities in 14 states and one union territory of Phase II has touched 89.8 per cent, including 28.33 per cent DTH homes as on 21 April, three weeks after analogue switch-off.
last month I mentioned about the DTH operators feeling insecure and now it is being talked about in the open by many. Even TAM has come out with the findings that analog cable subscribers prefer shifting to Digital cable rather than DTH inspite of it being touted as a better service. In my point of view, it will remain a service for the rich and elite and people staying in cable dry areas and operators should focus on that leaving cable service for masses..
We have entered the second phase of digitalization that includes 38 cities of million plus population. Everyone knows how the government has succeeded in introducing compulsory digitalization in the country, using its powers and clout in every which way. The whole process has worked in favour of the big players and the top 10% of the population.
Finally the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting declared itself a winner in the race to seed maximum STB to implement digitisation in the four metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. The success came on the night of 31 October when in a press release the Ministry declared itself a winner and gave consolation prize to MSO DEN for seeding maximum STBs in a single day in Delhi. According to the release-
The progress of digitalization is being monitored by Information & Broadcasting Ministry and the review suggests about 68% of the digitalization had already been achieved in the 4 metro cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai by mid September. According to the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Act 2011, it is mandatory for the cable distribution companies to switch from Analogue Cable Television Network to Digital Addressable System (DAS) by end of December 2014 in entire country in 4 phases. For the digitalization process, the installation of set top boxes (STBs) in the television viewing homes with Cable television is a necessary pre-condition for the digital switch over. The ministry has reviewed the digitalization data by taking into account census data of year 2011. The same data has also been verified with the help of data received from MSOs and DTH companies.
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