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HomeArticlesDigitizationState Governments must be fully involved in Digitisation
Wednesday, 10 February 2016 05:12

State Governments must be fully involved in Digitisation

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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. 

DTH is a satellite based wireless service which is one way and hence cannot deliver the broadband. Moreover due to shortage of transponders and very high cost, it will always remain costlier service than Cable TV. As per MIB reports, 76% seeding has been done in Phase III comprising of 33.5 million TV households when there are only 242 permanent registered MSOs. Ministry has given more than 400 provisional registrations in the last five months totaling to 468, 66 MSOs getting only provisional licence in January. But it is a risky business for them as after spending millions, their registration could get cancelled if they do not get the security clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The biggest problem of these MSOs is procuring STBs. It is a time consuming process as most of them are being imported and foreign companies do not give credit on provisional registrations. Also DTH companies have deep pockets and have already booked millions of STBs in advance putting the newly registered MSOs at the end of the queue.

MSOs have thus, approached High Courts in respective states and the Courts have granted stay on analogue switch off in more than 14 states. Even some chief ministers have written to the I & B Minister to postpone Phase III by six months.

It is reported in some Media that the Ministry is preparing to approach the Supreme Court in getting all these cases clubbed and stay vacated. If this be the state of Digitisation, we are heading for endless court battles. 

Involvement of States

The last mile of Cable Television that connects about 120 million households seven hundred million people, is broadband capable and is held/owned by thousands of small cable operators. The focus of the government in the current implementation should have been to consolidate these networks to achieve economies of scales. In the present state, cable operators are losing their consumers to DTH service providers denuding Cable Operators of their revenue, making them incapable to upgrade their networks for broadband. State governments can help in this to a great extent, like the Andhra Pradesh government has planned. It is laying a state-wide fiber network along the high power lines and will provide the network to MSOs and cable operators to create a broadband super highway which will get connected with BharatNet, the National optical Fiber Network. This will help the state government to provide e-governance, e-commerce and allied services along with entertainment and information channels to all consumers at affordable price. Since right of way is the responsibility of the state, this will help the industry utilize the state infrastructure and create a revenue stream for all.

Although the government has switched off analogue in Phase III affecting thousands of Cable Operators, spread all over the country, who are struggling to survive their livelihood, its own house is not in order.

It is really sad the way our government works to achieve its target on paper. It is very well known how it shut the mouth of any dissent to its policies, when cable operators were shunted out from the second Task Force and select people were introduced who would only say ‘YES’. No news channel carried out a programme on the subject that affected 120 million Cable TV households with 700 million people. Figures were manipulated bringing in DTH to fill the gaps and enough promotion was done on the success of different phases of digitisation. Ironically, the Phase III has been closed but I&B Ministry is still amending the list of urban areas in Phase III. It has released the 5th updated list of urban areas for Phase III on 7 January. The list has made changes in Karnataka urban areas reducing more than one lakh TV homes.

The updated list shows that the total TV households have decreased by almost 169,554 to 2,028,622. As per the original list, 2,198,176 TV households across 30 districts were to be covered under DAS Phase III in Karnataka. Urban areas have been deleted in almost all the 30 districts of the state. The updated list has been issued after receiving comments from the state government of Karnataka. The new list has come even as the deadline for DAS Phase III has ended. From 38 million TV homes in Phase III, the figures have now been reduced to 32 million. If the government had made the states its partner in the process, all states would have earmarked the areas for different phases much better and more realistically because the states know about the spread of population, it’s economic status and quantum of existing infrastructure much better.

Infact, it is the DMs and DCs who work under the state governments would have controlled the process locally in a better way rather than one Nodal offices per state reporting to Centre. The experience of last four years shows that Nodal officers have not been very effective in implementing digitization.

Another lacunae in the process has been Public involvement. Although the Ministry claims that it is carrying out campaign through TV and radio, in a country of 1.4 billion, it has hardly made any impact. Again, this work could have been done better through the state administration. There should have been more involvement of the state governments in giving the feedback of the process as done for other government welfare schemes.

One wonders what was in Ministry’s mind as to who would fund the process when it did not have any funds from the Centre.

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