The last list of 26 provisional MSOs was issued on 26 February. All the MSOs getting registration now are operating only within the states in various districts. It is surprising that the Ministry continues to issue the provisional licences knowing well that these can be revoked anytime if the security clearance is not given by the MHA.
Although, the Ministry had proposed to the Home Ministry to do away with the MHA clearance for MSOs in March 2015, it has not received any written directive from the MHA. MIB has also failed to expedite the directive knowing that it is not justified to force provisionally registered MSOs to invest crores to implement its mandatory digitization diktat. It also raises doubts on the intention of the MIB on how genuine its claim of doing this in public interest is.
First it had set very impractical deadlines for completing the process in a country like India, where neither we have indigenous manufacturing of STBs nor the people are financially well off to bear the burden of mandatory digitisation. Secondly, to improve the figures of STB seeding, the Ministry included the seeding done by DTH companies who have been operating in the digital domain for the last ten years and are the major competition to the Cable Operators. In fact, one of the objectives of DAS amendment to Cable TV Act was to protect Cable Operators from the growing competition with DTH operators. The Ministry is now doing just the opposite, encouraging DTH to increase the seeding of STBs by taking their figures in its final report for each phase and save it’s face. In Phase III completion report, it has also i ncluded 12 million of DTH connections and an estimated 4 million of Free Dish connections. Cable networks could seed only 8 million out of 33.8 ml households as per the Ministry.
Also, the other objective of this digitisation was to encourage operators provide broadband services. Even this has been sidelined by the Ministry as it has failed to provide RoW to the MSOs at reasonable rates in their areas of operation in different states and given a minimum revenue to LCOs who have to upgrade the last mile.
MIB accepts that it has given provisional registration to more than 100 MSOs in November and December 2015 and yet it expects them to complete the task by 31 December 2015. Phase IV deadline is just ten months away and about 70 million more connections are to be digitized. One wonders which direction we are heading.
More cases in the High Courts
In the meanwhile MSOs continue their battle against the impractical deadlines in the high court in their respective state. Broadcasters and the MIB are trying their best to vacate all the stays the High Courts have granted, by approaching the Supreme Court to club all the cases and decide once for all.
MSOs in three states – Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Uttar Pradesh – have received further extensions for varying periods. While the Hyderabad High Court has clubbed the two cases of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and granted a four week extension, the Allahabad High Court extended the stay for three more months.
The Hyderabad High Court which received the counter-affidavit from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, gave time to the petitioners in both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana - AP MSOs Federation and Federation of Telangana MSOs - to file their replies, The plea taken by both the petitioners had been the shortage of set top boxes, which had in late December led to a two month extension.
In Karnataka, three individual stakeholders have got stay orders in Mangalore and Mysore areas while there is no state-wide stay. However, MSOs and Local Cable Operators are using analogue signals in areas that fall in Phase III but for which no stay has been obtained.
Task Force has a different story
The meeting of the Phase III and Phase IV Task Force – held on 16 February was told by Ministry Joint Secretary (Broadcasting) R Jaya that the percentage achievement had increased from 76.45 per cent as on 30 December 2015 to 90.44 per cent as on 15 February 2016. It was also claimed that the seeding of set top boxes by multi system operators increased from 6.91 million to 12.43 million for the same period. Thus the seeding almost doubled (increased by 5.52 million) in 45 days, what the MSOs did in the whole year.
According to the MIB, DAS Phase III covers 33.18 million TV households across 29 states and five Union Territories, after changes made in updates for various states. Although Phase III was aimed at covering all remaining urban areas in the country, Ministry sources stated that several urban areas may now be clubbed with the rural areas where the deadline is 31 December 2016.