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Extension of DAS deadline is a bad decision by the govt: Khullar

MUMBAI: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman Rahul Khullar is unable to find logic in the government’s decision to extend the deadline for digital addressable system (DAS) in Phases III and IV. He feels that the foreign investors will get a negative signal while domestic manufacturers of set-top boxes (STBs) will not be able to capitalise.

Khullar said that foreign investors had expressed surprise how 20 million homes were digitised in such a short time frame. The extension, Khullar warned, will send a wrong signal to these investors.

Rahul-Khullar2“When we pushed and got Phases I and II done at the end of last year, a number of foreign investors told me that it’s a miracle that you guys have got 20 million homes digitised. So this decision will send a signal to foreign investors that ‘sorry we are not ready for business’ by again postponing the dates,” he averred, saying that the decision will do a great harm to India’s credibility.

Khullar also said that the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s (MIB) emphasis on promoting indigenous set-top boxes (STB) for Phases 3 and 4 of DAS is a mere pipe dream.

“The motivation that you will scale up and allow domestic producers to produce 70 million STBs in a space of two years in my view is a pipe dream. It will never happen,” said Khullar in an interview to Bloomberg TV India.

He further said that the government had unsuccessfully tried a similar exercise during conditional access system (CAS) roll-out. “The same thing was cited when CAS came into picture, and it was aborted and abandoned. So I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he added.

Khullar was also upfront that the decision to extend DAS deadline is a bad one that will harm the Prime Minister’s ‘Digital India’ initiative and the dream of delivering broadband across the length and breadth of the country.

“It’s a very bad decision to defer digitisation. It’s a huge effort to get here. It is bad for ‘Digital India’, bad for broadband delivery. It is simply not a good decision and definitely not in public interest,” opined Khullar.

Contending that the momentum will be lost if the government tinkers with the deadline, Khullar stated, “This is something where the government would be well advised to reconsider what exactly they are doing and the enormous amount of effort that is involved.”

On the issue of cross-media ownership, Khullar stated that the regulator’s job was to put together a set of recommendations that will lead to better performance in the media.

He acknowledged that the recommendation on re-looking at corporate ownership of media touched many raw nerves. But he also clarified that the regulator did not say anything definitive on the corporate ownership aspect.

“Much of the anger was expressed in terms of corporate ownership, but we never said anything definitive on corporate ownership. We just said it needs to be looked at seriously because there are conflict-of-interest problems that you cannot duck any longer,” he explained.

According to Khullar, issues like independent regulator for news media, banning private treaties, penalising paid news and safeguarding editorial independence need more careful deliberations.

“It is as somebody said an issue whose time has come. For ten years, we have been dodging this, and I think we guys bit the bullet and went ahead,” he explained.

He also revealed that the authority will come out with a consultation paper on broadband in the next 10 days, adding that convergence is still five to 10 years away.

“If we are to deliver broadband, we need to know how to do it in the cheapest way, who should be involved, what needs to be done in terms of application and software development. These are the gamut of issues that primarily concern building of infrastructure and delivering content,” he noted.

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