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HomeArticlesCol KK SharmaDigitisation Phase IV- A Tough Road Ahead
Tuesday, 12 April 2016 05:31

Digitisation Phase IV- A Tough Road Ahead

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On 29 March the Information and Broadcasting Ministry had asked multi-system operators (MSOs) to apply for registration by 30 April in case they want to supply signals in the areas falling under Phase IV of digital addressable system.

Ministry had also published an advertisement addressed to cable operators who want to become MSOs, to get registered the earliest to be ready by 31 December this year when analogue is expected to be switched off all over the country. 

Attention has also been drawn to the notification of 11 September 2014 which gave the final deadline for the various phases and stated that digitization in Phase IV has to be completed by 31 December this year. The advertisement has also been placed on the website digitalindiamib.com. A toll-free number 1800-180-4343 was also given.

Three months have passed since then and not many new MSOs are getting registered. Last month only 39 MSOs have got provisional registration. There is none registered for ten years. It appears that the advertisement released by the Ministry last year did not have much effect. 

 Another stopper in the game is the ‘stays’ on the analogue switchoff  granted by many High Courts in different states. Government 's petition to transfer all these cases has been admitted by the Supreme Court, to transfer all the cases to the APEX court where they will be clubbed together and decided once for all. However, on 01 April, the Supreme Court has directed the Delhi High Court to hear all the petitions filed in other state High Courts and directed all other high courts not to take any action on the petitions. Well, this is something the Ministry and the broadcasters wanted. It is easy to pressurize a single court to vacate the stay with arguments made by the solicitor general and high end senior advocates representing the broadcasters who have also plans to intervene in the case. 

Generally, experience says that it is very difficult for less experienced advocates to argue a case against highly placed senior advocates who might have even served as law ministers in the previous governments. I am not questioning the credibility of the judiciary but since there is no substantive data available showing the real success or failure of DAS, government figures and figures given by some sponsored research done by high level international firms may be accepted by the Court as true. 

Unfortunately, no consumer organization has come forward to intervene in any case so far, nor there is any protest made by LCOs the way jewelers have protested against imposition of excise duty. Another problem is that broadcasters have their vested interest in not showing any protest by the consumers or LCOs against the mandatory digitization because it benefits them the most.       

Even if the High Court vacates all the stays, it may not help the digitization to happen by end of the year as the Ministry can neither provide set-top-boxes to the MSOs if they are not available in the country nor it can force the consumers to take services of DTH companies who claim to have sufficient number of STBs stocked with them for the Phase-IV. Already the government has accepted that not more than 10-15% STBs in the earlier phases are made in India.

The pertinent point is that all the six DTH players have not being able to install more than one million STBs a month, making a total of 12 million by the year end, whereas almost 40-50 million STBs are required for this phase. Also, one should not forget that the DTH operators need STBs for new customers in Phase-I –III areas too, which is part of this 12 million.   

 So far a total of 792 MSOs have been registered till date which includes 231 having permanent (ten-year licences). All others are provisional, without the security clearance from the MHA. If MHA does not exempt the MSOs of security clearance, many MSOs may lose their registration. According to the list issued by the Ministry on 29 March, 26 licences were cancelled earlier. Also the areas of operation of some of the MSOs have been revised or amended. None of the 39 new licencees have got pan-India registration, though some have the registration to cover a particular state and most have only clearances for some districts.

Even as the industry is trying its best to complete the digitisation by the yearend, Additional District Magistrates have been designated as authorised officers to exercise the powers conferred upon them under the provisions of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995. The powers are to be exercised ‘within the local limits of their jurisdiction’. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry issued a gazette notification on 7 March to this effect. However, the powers given to the ADMs will not apply to Section Five relating to the Programme Code and Section Six relating to the Advertising Code.

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