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Confusion over DAS area mars Hyderabad’s transition to digital cable

MUMBAI: The government’s digitisation drive in Hyderabad has been riddled with confusion with multi-system operators (MSOs) and local cable operators (LCOs) still groping in the dark over the boundary wall of the Digital Addressable System (DAS) in the city.

If one goes by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s (MIB) affidavit in the Andhra Pradesh High Court, then the jurisdiction area for DAS implementation is the areas covered under the erstwhile Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad (MCH).

Now here is the catch. The Andhra Pradesh government had expanded the boundary of HMC in 2007 by merging 12 municipalities and eight gram panchayats which led to the creation of what is now known as Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC).

In Phase I, the government had taken the municipal corporation limit as the area for DAS implementation for the four metro cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai. However, the MIB’s decision to restrict the area of DAS implementation to the erstwhile MCH limits has thrown a spanner in the works of MSOs and LCOs.

As a result of confusion over DAS area, analogue signals are yet to be completely switched off in whole of Hyderabad. While the MSOs have switched off analogue signals in MCH areas however in the areas outside MCH the analogue signals are still being transmitted.

There is a wide variation in the number of television homes, depending upon the jurisdiction area one is looking at. While the MCH has only 800,000-900,000 TV homes, the GHMC as per industry estimates has a whopping 2.5 million TV homes.

This confusion over jurisdiction area has made life difficult for MSOs and LCOs to seed set-top boxes (STBs), switch off analogue signals, and collect customer application forms (CAFs).

Jagdish KumarHathway Cable and Datacom MD and CEO Jagdish Kumar said that the confusion over jurisdiction of DAS area has jeopardised DAS implementation in Hyderabad. Incidentally, Hathway is the leading MSO in the city with a large market share.

“The jurisdiction issue has led to a lot of confusion. It has become practically impossible to collect CAFs. We can’t even switch off STBs as one operator is in DAS area and another operator is in non-DAS area,” lamented Kumar.

Anil-Malhotra-COO-SITI-CableSiti Cable COO Anil Malhotra agrees with Kumar. “There is a bit of confusion as the DAS area has not been clearly marked. A lot of areas are contagious. So while on one side DAS is being implemented, on the other side analogue cable is still running,” averred Malhotra.

Hyderabad along with Visakhapatnam was part of 38 cities that were covered in Phase II of DAS, the deadline for which ended on 31 March.

The AP HC had initially stayed DAS implementation in the two cities following a petition filed by LCOs. However, in August the HC struck down the petition and directed a four-week grace period to switch to digital cable.

Giving the LCO perspective, cable operator Pallam Raju said: “We are not able to seed STBs as customers are asking us why they are being made to pay to buy the boxes when people in their neighbouring areas are receiving analogue transmission without having to invest in an STB.”

Even in the MCH area, the LCOs are indulging in piracy by transmitting analogue signals. The district administration is also finding it tough to clamp down on erring operators.

The issue found resonance during the last week meeting between the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and the MSOs represented by Hathway Cable and Datacom, DEN Networks, Siti Cable, IMCL and GTPL.

In fact, TRAI Principal Advisor N Parameswaran is believed to have told the MSOs that the regulator will be lenient in Hyderabad as far as collection of CAF goes due to the confusion over the DAS area limit.

The MSOs have petitioned the MIB and the sector regulator to look into the matter urgently and find a solution to it. Although the issue does not come under the purview of TRAI, the authority has assured the MSOs that it will try to find some workable solution.

“We have approached the MIB and have requested them to resolve the issue as soon as possible. TRAI has also promised us that they will look into the matter in whatever way it is possible as the jurisdiction issue comes under the MIB,” Kumar informed.