Although Digitisation of Cable TV networks all across the nation has been declared completed by I&B Ministry, reports received from different parts of the country say something else. Due to lack of infrastructure as well as lack of interest shown by large MSOs to invest in rural areas, millions of consumers are still left with analogue signals or NO signals at all. Even DTH has not reached in these far off places, or these consumers find DTH costlier than cable.
Just after three months on 31st December 2016 our Government will declare the great job of Mandatory Digitisation completed successfully. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will issue directions to the broadcasters to switch off all their analogue decoders, cutting off the signal supply to television sets in millions of poor households of Phase III & IV who cannot afford a DTH connection and where cable operator does not have access to digital signal because either MSOs do not have any existing infrastructure there or hesitate to enter as economically not viable.
It is well known that we may write the success of Digitisation in cable TV industry on paper, in reality very little has been achieved in the last five years, much contrary to what time period TRAI had earmarked to complete the process. We have already added two years to the deadlines and if no immediate action is taken to rectify the situation, many more will be added. All TRAI regulations are in the courts and consumers are the biggest losers.
The current Budget 2016 proposed by the Union Fiance Ministry has brought in a welcome change on exempting the Digital STB for the TV from the CVD which should give the Indian Manufacturing an encouragement to make STB’s in India rather than importing them mo stly from China, which is world’s largest manufacturer.
Although DAS was mandated in consumer interest for implementation by a private industry comprising of Broadcasters, MSOs, LCOs and Consumers, investing a huge amount without any support from the government, even the Regulations framed for addressable systems have not created an eco-system benefitting the consumers and encouraging the growth of all stakeholders.
In the last two task force meetings held on 20th April and 27th May 2015 respectively in the I&B Ministry for implementing Phase-III of DAS stakeholders have been only projecting their problems and did not talk of the progress made. According to our reports, hardly 10% of the 47 million STBs have been seeded in the Phase III. Infact, the report says that one prominent national MSO has not ordered a single STB for Phase III. Less than six months are left to complete Phase-III that covers about 39 million Cable TV households in 630 districts encompassing 7709 urban areas.
Whatever may be said by the Ministry or TRAI in their statements to the media about the success of digitisation, it has been a failure so far, as even after three years, no benefits to consumers are visible. No broadcaster has dared to make a programme, public debate or discussion on the subject involving consumers. Fearing backlash from consumers, even the last UPA government had strictly prohibited the print media to report any unfavourable reactions to the mandatory implementation. Two years time is not at all adequate to bring such a large scale change, affecting 120 million households where 70% are from poor or lower income groups. Also, STBs are not manufactured in India and we cannot depend on international suppliers in a given time frame. Also, there is no check on quality of imported STBs or even quality of service.
Even after three years of digitization, Consumer is still not in a deciding position and no market forces exist in India in broadcasting sector in the Digital Domain. It is because monopolies of a few big players are still rampant. TRAI has made regulations to curb monopolies but its recommendations are not in force. TRAI must exercise its powers to regulate ‘Pay’ channels in every way clearly differentiating between ‘Pay’ channels and FTA channels including their tariff, ad duration and distribution.
While tablin the Economic Survey 2013-14 in the Lok Sabha on 9 July 2014, the Finance Minister Sh Arun Jaitley stated that both the centre and the state governments will benefit fr0m digitisation of the cable TV industry in India because of increase in tax collections. The Survey reports that preliminary data fr0m the state governments show that there is already two to three fold increase in entertainment tax collections.
To our surprise, the Economic Survey on impact of Digitisation has taken the input fr0m FICCI KPMG report presented in FICCI Frames, an annual event of FICCI held in March this year. Since it was a sponsored event, the report was not an Independent survey that should have been conducted by the government for the true picture of Mandatory Digitisation.
Curbing monopolies in media is extremely important for a country like India where gap between the rich and the poor is too wide. To improve our economy we need to decrease this gap by giving more opportunities to small and medium enterprises and self employed people to grow. This can only happen when we curb vertical monopolies of large enterprises by restricting cross media holdings. This is more important for the Media industry which has the power to change the mindset of people at large.
It is strange that in spite of TRAI's detailed consultations with industry since 2004 and numerous recommendations, the industry has been lead to the present situation where some basic provisions made by TRAI are being questioned in the court rooms before even properly implementing them. Stake holders have been giving enough information to TRAI on functioning of the industry in their replies to the many consultation papers issued so far but hardly any practical solutions have been found to regulate the industry.
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