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Saturday, 08 October 2016 12:12

LCOs and Consumers missing from the Task Force

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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. 

Intriguingly, ours may be the only Mandatory Digitisation in the World which has been done by a government without spending a single paisa and without keeping in mind interest of the poor consumers ( in India, the masses ). Also it may be the only one prompted by ‘ Pay’  broadcasters and implemented by the MIB, taking it as its personal priority and not a national priority. 

This ethos is very much visible in the way, the Ministry reconstituted its Task Force for the purpose after Phase-I was declared closed with great difficulty and opposition. It simply removed all the directly affected stakeholders including consumers, LCOs and small MSOs from the Task Force. 

 The 17th Task Force meeting held on 31st August 2016 did not have either an LCO or a consumer organisation. 

LCOs have the highest stake in the industry, owning 120 million subscribers. However the Task Force is dominated by big players who enjoy vertical monopolies in the market, mostly International Pay Broadcasters who have nothing to do with digitization of Cable TV or communication infrastructure of cable TV networks that can make our PM’s dream of a Digital India come true , participating in the BHARAT Net project connecting each and every village in the country.

Ministry has taken members from Broadcasters' Associations like IBF and NBA, DTH Association, IPTV etc. but left out Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI), the associations working for the welfare of LCOs since 1993 when it started representing the last mile operators in the Government including giving many presentations before the Parliamentary Committee for IT & Communications, helping the government to frame various regulations for the industry. 

 This happened from the Second Task Force because Ministry’s planning for the Digitisation of cable TV industry mandated by an amendment made  to the Cable TV Act 1995 went hay-wire and it had to take the help of Pay Broadcasters, their supported National MSOs and DTH companies to manipulate the figures of STB seeding to show its own achievement and success. 

 Currently, most of the members in the Task Force are Pay Broadcasters who are just a few, representing their own organization IBF, industry organisations like FICCI, ASSOCHAM, CII etc. or the large National MSOs and their JVs. Ministry officials avoid taking members from the LCO organizations as they do not wish to hear the problems at the ground level .So much so, that the media in the country has been gagged since the start of the Digitisation for reporting any public reaction or protests by the LCOs. No TV news channel has ever done any public debate on the issues involving 900 million TV consumers since 2011. Even suicides by cable TV operators were never reported by any news channel.

Aim of Digitisation was  to give choice to the consumers, quality of services, affordable rates and protect the livelihood of thousands of cable operators operating since 1990 and responsible for creating this multimillion dollar industry in the country without any support from the government.

The current situation  is evident from the Minutes of last Task Force Meeting as given below 

1.No public awareness in interiors of the country. 

2.Out of 6000 MSOs only 1300 have been registered with the Ministry in all these years. MSOs from rural and semi-urban India are not coming up as with small number of subscribers, Digitisation is not viable and large MSOs do not wish to go there as no infrastructure exists.

3.Indigenous STBs are not being bought as they are costlier than the imported ones due to our heavy taxes and duties and very little incentive. ‘Make in India’ has failed in the industry.

4.Neither broadcasters nor MSOs are following any rules and regulations inspite of warnings and directions. If any regulation does not suit them, they challenge it in the court, blocking its implementation. 

5.Cases in the Courts are on the increase. Most of these are between LCOs and MSOs and between small MSOs and Broadcasters regarding escalated revenue demand or non availability of content.

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