Cable TV Digitisation:
Digitisation in Tamil Nadu
The MIB was reprimanded by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT for lackadaisical implementation of cable TV digitisation in the state of Tamil Nadu. The Committee, in its report on the status of digitisation, said that only 33% digitisation has been completed in the state, while the I&B Ministry had informed that the figure was about 70% in the Phase 4 areas excluding Tamil Nadu, as on the cut-off date of 31 March 2017 for Phase IV areas.
The report added that the ministry also received complaints from the TN’s registered MSOs and their local cable operators (LCOs) that they are being forced to take signals only from Arasu, the state-owned MSO. The ministry requested the Chief Secretary of the state to check the matter and ensure that Arasu does not have a monopoly. Some of the complainants have also moved to Madras High Court in this regard.
The Parliamentary Committee on Information Technology did not like MIB’s favouring state-owned Arasu Cable TV Corporation. It noted that the Ministry first gave it provisional registration against the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and then extended the digitisation implementation deadline for Arasu which had a negative impact on the overall progress of digitisation in Tamil Nadu.
The committee, in its recommendations, said that MIB should decide its future corrective measures in conformity to the recommendations of TRAI and set a time limit to hasten the process and achieve the goal of cable TV digitisation. It also asked the Ministry to address the woes of MSOs and LCOs in the state of Tamil Nadu.
The MIB was asked to intimate the results to the Committee within a period of three months.
Talking about the set top box (STB) seeding data in the Management Information System (MIS), the committee noted that only 952 out of 1471 registered MSOs have started entering data in MIS, as on 9 November 2017.
The Committee said, “It is a matter of grave concern that while MIS has been activated and operationalised to gather information on MSOs seeding status, many MSOs are not seeding the data to the MIS database as per requirement. Unless the MSOs seed the data regarding subscriber information and other prescribed information, there will be no transparency and accountability of the stakeholders.”
As a matter of fact, the MIB issued show cause notices to 307 MSOs in the first round who failed to enter the STB seeding data. In the second round up to March 2017, notices were issued to 149 MSOs.
The MIB was also asked to direct the MSOs to complete seeding of data in the MIS at the earliest and to ensure proper agreements between MSOs and Broadcasters in this regard. And the Ministry will have to inform the Committee about the action taken against the defaulting MSOs including cancellation of their registration for not seeding the data in MIS.
Though the Committee said that authorised officers and TRAI are responsible for digitization, with so many complaints it is clear that Authorised Officers have failed to discharge their duties to take forward the process of digitisation and check illegal practices by MSOs/operators. Hence, the MIB cannot wash its hands off the responsibility as it is the administrative ministry for the overall implementation.
Lastly, the committee asked MIB to set up a monitoring mechanism to coordinate with the Authorised Officers for tracking the violations by the operators and also to organize the periodic meetings.
Cable Operators Federation of India
In recent past, the Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI) in its written submissions before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology looking into the 'status of Cable TV digitisation and interoperability of Set top boxes, had also stated, ''The Ministry of I&B Ministry is only interested that maximum TV content passes through cable TV networks to help pay TV broadcasters make more money. Due to continuous neglect by successive governments, no financial institute recognises cable TV business for funding. FDI also does not flow in as expected as the investors also feel that our policies do not support the last mile infrastructure essential for providing good quality digital services.”
MeitY should promote indigenous STBs:
There was also an important direction from the Committee for the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY). It was asked to promote indigenous set top boxes (STBs) so as to reduce dependence on imported STBs.
The committee added that hope with the development of indigenous condition access system (CAS) iCAS, the popularity and usage of domestically manufactured STBs would go high.
On issues of vertical monopolies, cross-media holdings:
The Parliamentary Committee on IT, in its report, said that the issues related to vertical monopolies and cross-media holdings need government intervention, as it has serious implications for the print and electronic media and hence it should not be simply left to the commercial forces.
Apart from asking the MIB about existing provisions in force to address the issues of vertical monopolies and cross-media holdings in the cable sector, the committee also directed the I&B Ministry to inform it the status of action taken by the government on the recommendations made by the TRAI on ‘Issues relating to Media Ownership and ‘Monopoly/Market dominance in cable TV services’.
While the TRAI wants its recommendations on vertical monopolies and cross-media holding must be implemented on a priority basis, the MIB does not favour imposing restrictions on the areas of operation of the existing entities. The ministry wants it to be left to the market forces.
Check Excessive ads on TV:
The Parliamentary Standing Committee also directed The MIB to take effective measures to stop the menace of excessive ads on TV which is very irritating for viewers. It said that both the free-to-air (FTA) and pay channels are violating the norms and are subjecting consumers to the frequent long dose of ads during a programme.
As a matter of fact, TRAI ad cap regulation reiterates the limit on ads in a TV channel stipulated in the Cable TV Rules 1994 that the duration of ads in a programme can not be more than 12 minutes per clock hour, but the matter is currently in the court.
The committee stated in its recommendations: “The committee recommends that steps must be taken to regulate the permissible duration and frequency of advertisements during a programme to ensure that in order to maximise their advertisement revenue, broadcasters do not force the viewers to bear repetitive slots of advertisement in quick succession without any check whatsoever.”
Not only this, the Committee also directed the Ministry to ensure that ads being run in scroll or sticker should not cover more than 10% of the TV screen space and also not spoil the aesthetic sense of the programmes being telecast. “There should not be any vertical display -running or static - of an ad on TV screen by any broadcaster.”
One has to sec now how much the Ministry will follow these directions and in how long a time or will they be preserved just as or document.