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DAS: Herculean task ahead as seeding of STBs in Phase III is slow

MUMBAI: The pace of seeding of set-top boxes (STBs) in Phase III towns is agonisingly slow and cable TV operators have a herculean task ahead as they face the deadline of 31 December 2015 to fully digitise their networks.

The target rate of seeding has to be around 2-3 lakh STBs a day, says Siti Cable Network chief operating officer Anil Malhotra. Currently, the seeding of STBs is in the pathetic range of 20,000-30,000 a day.

In fact, Hathway Cable & Datacom has not deployed any STBs in the January-March quarter of 2015.  With Phase III of digital addressable system (DAS) round the corner, the multi-system operator (MSO) is looking to seed 2.5 million STBs this fiscal. The other MSOs also have a mammoth exercise to undertake.

Incidentally, Phase III of DAS will cover 38.8 million television households, spanning 630 districts. Allowing for the number of multiple-TV households and TVs in commercial establishments, as many as 47 million STBs would be needed.

Logistic support has to be planned to step up the pace of seeding of STBs, Malhotra believes. He was voicing his opinion at the eighth Task Force meeting.

With just a little over six months away from the deadline, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) has sought monthly data on seeding of STBs in DAS Phase III areas.

What is slowing down the whole process is the delay in the signing of interconnect agreements between broadcasters and MSOs. As reported earlier by TelevisionPost.com, the deadline to sign interconnect agreements, set by the MIB, has been given a miss for the second time. The MIB had asked the MSOs and broadcasters to sign interconnect agreements by 21 June or the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) would intervene.

As reported earlier by TelevisionPost.com, 61 MSOs have approached broadcasters for signing interconnect agreements. This figure was provided by TRAI advisor Sunil Kumar Singhal at the eighth Task Force Meeting, held on 27 May. There has hardly been any movement since then, sources say.

Commercial terms have not been agreed upon. While MSOs want the broadcasters to provide the channels at a lower cost than Phase I and II cities, broadcasters are not keen to sweeten the terms. They also want to reduce their carriage payouts.

TRAI has asked the MSOs regarding the rate issue and advised them to devise means to have rational rates for Phase III as the rates for Phases I and II cannot be implemented in these remaining phases. The pricing, however, will depend on what rate the broadcaster offers to the MSO.

The four core issues pertaining to interconnect agreement were outlined by Singhal at the eighth Task Force meeting.

“Though the broadcasters have given their replies to the MSOs, the memorandum of understanding (MoU) is yet to be signed,” Singhal said, clarifying that TRAI had been holding meetings with MSOs and broadcasters, together as well as independently on the issues.

Issues related to interconnect agreement

  1. The MSOs were being asked for more information by the broadcasters, which caused the delay in the signing of interconnect agreements.
    Considering TRAI’s intervention, broadcasters have formalised their formats in a very simple and comprehensive manner and most of the leading broadcasters have placed these on their websites so that all MSOs can submit requests at one go and get the agreement signed.
  1. Some smaller MSOs have alleged that the distributors of several broadcasters in a state were also MSOs, which led to conflicts of interests.
    TRAI addressed this issue by seeking the details of the core team of the broadcasters to be contacted for getting the signals and the broadcasters have provided such details on their websites.
  1. The third issue is related to the pending dispute between MSOs in DAS areas. These disputes need to be resolved mutually as TRAI would not intervene in such matters.
  2. The difference between MSOs and broadcasters on the rate of channels during mutual negotiations is also delaying the process. The larger MSOs are in talks with broadcasters to finalise the prices and were supposed to finalise them by mid-June.

Some MSOs want TRAI to come out with non-discriminative clause

At the Task Force meeting, MSO representatives said that whatever the rate declared by the broadcasters, TRAI should come out with a non-discriminative clause that would not push packages but allow the channels to be on a la carte.

In response, the TRAI advisor said that the authority had been insisting on a la carte and not bundling of channels and that any delay in the implementation of DAS will result in losses to both the MSOs and the broadcasters.

An MSO representative further suggested that channel packaging should be monitored by TRAI.

IBF says MSOs not ready with biz plans

IBF representative A Mohan referred to the MSOs not having made their business plans so far and the pressure tactics they use to bring down the rates.

Eighth Task Force chair and MIB additional secretary Jitendra Shankar Mathur reiterated that the need of the hour is to have complete cooperation among all the stakeholders and that continuous dialogue with the intent to resolve the issues is a must.

Start publicity campaign, says MIB

Another suggestion was that the local cable operators (LCOs) should be trained to inform the consumers about the benefits of DAS as they are close to the consumers and can speed up this process.

Mathur said that a publicity campaign should start now as the cut-off date for Phase III is approaching.

HITS

Ankur Jain, MD of Noida Software Technology Park Ltd (NSTPL) said that in Phase III areas where 1 GB tele link is not available, only headend-in-the-sky (HITS) can provide the facility for digitisation of cable networks. NSTPL operates HITS platform JAINHITS.

The TRAI advisor said that bandwidth issues remain a problem and will be taken up as and when the penetration in Phase III areas happens. He said that these were genuine business issues that need to be thrashed out through mutual discussions between the stakeholders.

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