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HITS is being treated unfairly by broadcasters, MIB and TRAI: Tony D’Silva
MUMBAI: IndusInd Media & Communications Ltd (IMCL) MD & CEO and Grant Investrade Ltd (GIL) MD Tony D’Silva is an angry man these days.
His anger stems from what he calls the apathy of policy-makers, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) towards headend-in-the-sky (HITS) technology, which has great potential to take cable TV services to far-flung areas of the country through satellite transmission.
Besides the apathy of the government and the regulator, D’Silva also bemoans the unfair treatment meted out to HITS and Hinduja Group’s HITS project NXT Digital by broadcasters, who charge unrealistic rates for digitising while multi-system operators (MSOs) pay analogue rates to digitise their network.
The fact that the third phase of digital addressable system (DAS) has not been implemented due to the extension of deadline has only made things difficult for NXT Digital. MSOs and local cable operators (LCOs) in different parts of the country had filed cases for extension of DAS deadline. All the cases have been clubbed and are being heard by the Delhi High Court.
According to D’Silva, broadcasters are charging digital fee from NXT Digital at Phase I and II rates. “Now from where will that poor guy give me that kind of money? In Phases I and II, broadcasters continued to charge us as per analogue rates to allow us to place set-top boxes (STBs),” D’Silva said during an interaction.
Broadcasters, he said, were discriminating between HITS and MSOs when there was not much difference between the two systems. “They are charging me a digital fee but not the MSO with whom they have analogue agreements. Why are they discriminating against us?” he added.
The company has taken up the issue with the MIB and TRAI, and has even filed cases in the TDSAT. “For the last four months, the TDSAT has not had a technical member or a chairperson. Where do we go for justice?” Hinduja Ventures whole time director Ashok Mansukhani quipped.
D’Silva added, “We have been running from TRAI to the MIB. When we go to TRAI, they ask us to go to the MIB, stating that this is a policy issue over which they no power. When we go to the MIB, they tell us to go to TRAI. We are being treated unfairly.”
NXT Digital has sold 700 pieces of cable operators’ premise equipment (COPE) with a potential subscriber base of 3 million across Phase III markets. The HITS operator is providing feed and backend services to the LCOs. The white-label service that the company was propagating is not in demand as many of the operators don’t have a DAS licence. In the white-label service, NXT Digital provides the equipment and backend service, while the content deals and packaging are done by the LCO.
D’Silva said that the DAS licence conditions are prohibitive for small operators. To buttress his point, he said that the second clause of DAS application asks applicants to pay Rs 100,000, which is unaffordable for small operators. Similarly, Clause 19 requires them to produce digital agreements they have done with broadcasters. “How can operators do digital agreements without licence,” he said.
Hinduja Ventures, the holding company of IMCL and GIL, has decided to merge its HITS business with IMCL’s cable TV business. The company wants to draw synergies between the two platforms. The long-term plan is to do away with fibre and shift to HITS as the delivery system.
“We are merging HITS business with IMCL. That process has started. We have applied to the Bombay High Court. We have also informed the MIB about our decision. The IMCL part is getting integrated with the system. InDigital will deliver services through HITS. It depends on how close it is from the existing IMCL headend. The idea is that there is one system irrespective of who the customer is. The customer is dealing with the Hinduja Group. He sees a common interface and a common call centre,” he explained.
By using HITS technology IMCL will be able to increase its TV channel offering. “Today NXT Digital system can provide up to 500 channels. How many MSOs can provide these many services? Over a period of time, we will also move COPE services even for IMCL,” he stated.
HITS will also help LCOs in rural areas to compete with direct-to-home (DTH) operators. “For rural LCOs, HITS becomes an ideal proposition as they continue to own their network and do their own packaging and bundling. They have to pay Rs 20 per month per subscriber and the service charge,” he said.
NXT Digital is providing affordable COPE to LCOs for Rs 400,000 and is capable of transmitting 250+ channels, D’Silva said. They can expand capacity by adding modules in the future.
It has also developed a technology that will convert MPEG 4 signal into MPEG 2 to help operators continue with their existing system while using HITS. It will also begin simulcrypting signals of different CAS.