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Amid stay orders, MIB says 90% of DAS achieved in Phase III

MUMBAI: Even as the digital addressable system (DAS) Phase III rollout has been held up due to stay orders granted by various High Courts, the data shared by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) in the first Task Force meeting after the deadline presents a very rosy picture.

MIB Joint Secretary R Jaya told the Task Force members that set-top box (STB) seeding by multi-system operators (MSOs) has increased to 12.43 million for the period ended 15 February, from 6.91 million for the period ended 30 December 2015.

As per MIS data, the percentage achievement has increased to 90.44% as on 15 February 2016 from 76.45% as on 30 December 2015, Jaya added.

In the previous Task Force meeting, held on 30 December, the ministry had stated that 685 areas have reported zero seeding of which 280 areas were in West Bengal. However, those areas were deleted from Phase III list as per the comments of the state government. Out of 685 areas, 450 areas had fewer than 1,000 TV households and 226 from 1,000 to 5,000 TV households.

Some MSOs who had not applied for DAS registration have moved courts for extension of deadline

It also emerged during the discussions that some MSOs who have not even applied for DAS registration had filed cases for extension in the courts. Cases have also been filed by some MSOs who are not technically ready.

Giving an update on the legal matter, Jaya said that 19 cases have been filed in various courts in the country for extension of the cut-off date for Phase III.

MIB special secretary and chairperson of the Task Force JS Mathur said that the ministry has filed a petition in the Supreme Court for transfer of these cases for immediate hearing and for immediate vacation of stay granted in these cases.

Mathur advised the stakeholders that the stay granted in some court cases should not be construed that digitisation is put on hold. He emphasised that digitisation is a reality now and cannot be stopped, and advised that broadcasters and MSOs should spread this message.

He further mentioned that as per MIS report the number of MSO-dark areas have also decreased considerably.

Mathur stressed the issue of MSOs continuing with their seeding activity as the ministry has already moved the courts for transfer of all petitions in state High Courts, for vacating the stays. It was imperative that the remaining areas of Phase III be covered early, he added.

Status on MSO registrations

Jaya informed the 14th Task Force meeting, held on 16 February, that the MIB has so far granted DAS registrations to 695 MSOs while 164 applications are under process and 240 applications have been received with incomplete information.

Jaya also stated that regional units (RUs) set up for implementing digitisation in Phases III and IV are fully functional and that all RUs are in regular correspondence with MSOs in their regions. The ministry, she said, is receiving about 300 to 500 calls on the toll-free helpline for cable TV digitisation for Phases Ill and IV.

Prasar Bharati inspections

Jaya further stated that Prasar Bharati has so far inspected the headends of 340 MSOs for Phases III & IV. Headends of 109 MSOs have been reported to be non-operational.

Indian CAS at a nominal fee

Jaya revealed that the Department of Electronics & Information Technology has developed Indian Conditional Access System (iCAS) that will be initially available to indigenous STB manufacturers for three years at a nominal fee of 0.5 USD/STB. Currently, the CAS has been deployed by 12 MSOs in their headends.

The Department of Telecom (DoT) has asked BSNL to provide required connectivity links to MSOs for taking TV signals in Phase III and IV areas. In the last meeting, problems of connectivity links were reported being faced by MSOs in some Phase III areas, following which the ministry referred the matter to the DoT.

STB availability

On being asked by Mathur on the availability of STBs, the representatives of state governments and MSOs struck a conflicting note.

The representative of J&K government mentioned that some areas in Phase III in the state are yet to be covered due to non-availability of STBs. It was not known whether and when these MSOs had placed orders for STBs.

The representative of Telangana government stated that only 30–35% Phase III areas have been covered in the state so far and MSOs may require some time to complete their targets.

The representative of Uttarakhand mentioned that there have been reports of STB non-availability in some areas. He added that they are holding district-level meetings to implement digitisation in the state.

However, the representative of Andhra Pradesh government mentioned that they have not come across any complaint of non-availability of STBs in the state.

The representatives of Hathway Cable & Datacom, IndusInd Media & Communications Ltd (IMCL), Siti Cable, and GTPL Hathway said that they have sufficient stock of STBs.

The Hathway representative mentioned that they have sufficient stock of STBs, but local cable operators are refusing to take STBs from them for installation due to extension granted by various courts.

The IMCL representative stated that in view of the extension granted by courts and analogue transmission still running in some Phase III areas, broadcasters should charge them on analogue rates as per their earlier agreements.

Siti Cable representative stated that they have about one million STBs in stock. He remarked that MSOs were required to plan the procurement of STBs in advance, which the newly registered MSOs have not done.

The TRAI representative mentioned that local cable operators (LCOs) have been directed by one court to send requests for STBs to MSOs. He suggested that state governments should seek data from MSOs regarding availability of STBs.

He informed that TRAI has recently written to the chief secretaries of state governments on the benefits accruable from digitisation to them.

The representative of LCOs from Maharashtra mentioned that recently some DAS Phase IV areas that were getting their feed from control room in Phase III area were switched off by MSOs. He added that digitisation is not considering the affordability of the consumer—whether he can afford to buy an STB, particularly in Phase IV areas.

On the point that MSOs should be allowed to fix the rates of STBs, the TRAI representative mentioned that it has not fixed any price for STBs. He also emphasised that the conditions given in the tariff orders issued by TRAI on the supply and installation of STBs by MSOs have to be complied and there can be no compromise on the rights of the consumers.

Stating that the indigenous manufacturing of STBs should be a priority keeping in view the ‘Make in India’ programme of the government, Jaya urged CEAMA to reach out to MSOs to inform them about iCAS and STBs manufactured by them.

The representative of CEAMA mentioned that they would very soon have a meeting on iCAS in which they will also invite DeitY and MSOs. He also stated that the number of companies manufacturing STBs has doubled in the last one year. Domestic STB production has increased 100% in the last one year. One Chinese company is likely to start manufacturing STBs in India, he stated.

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