The Task Force in its meeting discussed the update on the court cases on Phase III of Cable TV Digitization as well as status of set-top boxes (STBs) seeded so far.
The Task Force maintains that digitization in Phase III areas has almost been completed. However, only 32 percent seeding of STBs has taken place in Phase IV areas. The actual seeding data could be much more, may be up to 50 percent, as some MSOs have not been filing seeding data in spite of repeated requests and some MSOs are not filing full data. The discrepancy could be quite large, as in one case, an MSO in Hyderabad had stated that he had seeded 17 lakh STBs, whereas the ministry's website showed that he had seeded only 1 lakh boxes.
Court Cases Update
All the cases, except three, have been disposed of by the Delhi High Court, with no pending stay order. The cut-off date for switchover from analog to digital signals in Phase III areas had been extended to January 31, 2017 and for Phase IV to March 31, 2017. As far as availability of STBs is concerned there is no shortage any more.
Issues Raised by MSOs
Subhashish Mazumdar, In-Cable Net, stated that progress in Phase IV areas could be better if infrastructure sharing is allowed. He mentioned that there is an issue of connectivity in remote areas such as Assam. However, he was of the opinion that since there are clear-cut directions for implementation of Phase III, progress of STB installation will gear up in Phase IV areas.
Anil Malhotra, SITI Cable, stated that there are some connectivity problems in far flung areas of Phase IV. He requested that infrastructure sharing may be permitted and added that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is already in consultation in this regard. He requested that they should be required to carry all channels on fiber network in remote areas. The cost of carriage of channels is very high. He suggested that MSOs should be allowed to take 80 channels from DD Freedish. He also raised the issue of Andhra Pradesh State FiberNet Limited (APSFL), which has been providing cable TV services on optical fiber network infrastructure. He mentioned that state governments had issued directions for removal of cables by the cable operators from all the electricity poles. He added that all MSOs are afraid to do so as they may not then be able to provide cable services.
Ajay, Hathway, stated that although there are some problems in Andhra Pradesh, they are continuing to seed the boxes in Phase IV areas and will be able to accelerate seeding in the months of February and March, 2017. He added that they are monitoring the process on a weekly basis.
Shaji Mathew, GTPL, stated that the situation in Gujarat is very good and that they are now seeding in Phase IV areas but the position in other states is not so good, though they are making efforts. He complained that some of the broadcasters, especially STAR, are still providing analog IRDs and no separate IRDs have been provided for Phase III and Phase IV areas to the MSOs. He suggested that broadcasters should be asked to give professional IRDs for carrying of digital signals for Phase III as well as Phase IV areas. He also stressed the need for infrastructure sharing, pointing out that TRAI needed to make an early recommendation on it. He mentioned that as per terms and conditions mentioned in the ministry's MSO registration letter, no infrastructure sharing is possible, since a separate own head-end is required by the MSOs.
The MSOs said that it should be possible to share SMS. The ministry's representative pointed out that entertainment tax department of Uttar Pradesh government had complained that MSOs do not provide them the data from the SMS. In this connection, Vaibhav, Den, pointed out that actually the representative of UP government had wanted user ID and password and not the SMS output. He expressed that user ID and password could not be shared, but SMS data would be shared.
Representative of Sony India pointed out that they have already issued directions to switching off analog signals in Phase III areas from February 1, 2017. He raised the issue that the signals of Arasu Cable for Phase III areas should be cut, as they are providing analog signals in Tamil Nadu. In this regard, the Advisor (DAS) mentioned that as per Madras High Court directions, analog signals of Arasu Cable cannot be disturbed till the ministry decides on their MSO registration applications.
Switching off Analog Signals in Phase III Areas by January 31, 2017
Instructions by the Task Force were issued that:
- lBroadcasters must ensure that they provide separate IRDs for Phase III and Phase IV areas.
- lBroadcasters must ensure that they do not have any analog agreements with any MSO for Phase III areas. In case they are having any existing analog agreement with any MSO for Phase III area, they must inform the concerned MSO that the existing agreement is no more valid after January 31, 2017.
- lBroadcasters must also carry out monitoring at the ground level to ensure that no MSO, with whom they have interconnection agreement, is supplying analog signal in Phase III area after January 31, 2017.
Domestic Production of STBs
Representative of CEAMA stated that demonetization and reduction of import duty to zero from ASEAN countries is affecting the requirement of indigenous STBs from the service providers. He added that they are still in the planning mode of raising the demand for STBs from indigenous manufacturers. He hoped that some medium- and small-sized players would place orders after January 31, 2017 when Phase III digitization is over. A huge demand for the boxes is expected due to the large number of households remaining to be covered in Phase IV.
Successful Implementation of Digitization
The representatives from the state governments outlined their readiness and action being taken by them with regard to successful implementation of digitization. They mentioned that they are holding meetings with stakeholders.
A representative from Odisha mentioned that the principal secretary had held a meeting on November 25, 2016 and reviewed the progress of digitization. They have prepared district-wise data for registered MSOs, unregistered MSOs, MSOs who are seeding data, and those who are not seeding data. Similar steps shall now be taken by other states too.
Some of the representatives raised the issues of a Hong Kong-based company, ABS Technologies, whose teleport is outside India, and is able to provide DTH services. The boxes of this company are freely available in the market. It is showing free-to-air channels of broadcasters. BARC has captured this data. This issue would be examined by the Task Force.
Analog Signals in Aurangabad
One MSO pointed out that a letter from the district administration in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, has been issued directing local MSOs not to stop analog signals.
MSOs felt that cable TV digitization in at least 20 percent of rural and remote/hilly areas may not be financially and technically viable even though analog signals may be working there. These remote areas should be allowed to be best served by DTH services. Also, some DTH operators have packages only for FTA channels but they actually do not offer the same to the public. The Task Force chairperson would examine the issue and propose a cost-effective package, especially for remote and inaccessible areas where it is not possible for MSOs to provide digital cable services.
In the meantime, the ministry has issued a notice to the authorized officers of defaulting MSOs/cable operators, who are still transmitting analog signals on cable TV network in urban areas under Phase lll after January 31, 2017. They have been instructed to ensure that the analog signals in Phase lll areas are not transmitted from February 1, 2017. In the eventuality of any MSO/cable operator not complying with these directions/orders, action may be initiated under Sec. 11 of the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, which states that if any authorized officer has reason to believe that the provisions of Section 3, Section 4 A, Section 5, Section 6, Section 8, Section 9, or Section 10 have been or are being contravened by any cable operator, he may seize the equipment being used by such cable operator for operating the cable television network (provided that the seizure of equipment in case of contravention of Sections 5 and 6 shall be limited to the programming service provided on the channel generated at the level of the cable operator).