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MIB grants provisional licence to Arasu

MUMBAI: After a waiting period of about five years, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) finally issued provisional digital addressable system (DAS) licence to Tamil Nadu government-owned Arasu Cable TV Corporation.

“It is for the first time that the DAS licence has been provided to a state government agency. Through this initiative, people in Tamil Nadu will be able to get world-class digital television service at affordable rates,” Arasu said.

The DAS licence was awarded to Arasu on 17 April.

The MSO has been granted three months to complete digitisation of its analogue network. The provisional registration is also subject to the MIB taking a final call on the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) recommendations suggesting entry barriers for state government or its entities in the TV broadcasting and distribution sector.

“Arasu has been granted provisional registration. They have been given three months’ time to complete the digitisation exercise. The provisional licence is subject to the MIB taking a final decision on TRAI’s recommendations. If those recommendations are accepted, then they have to exit as recommended by TRAI,” an MIB official told TelevisionPost.com on condition of anonymity.

“The grant of provisional registration shall not confer any right to the applicant to claim regular registration. The provisional registration will also stand cancelled in the event regular registration is refused,” the MIB stated.

The official said that the decision had been taken at a high level. “There are two reasons why Arasu has been granted licence. One is the Madras High Court had directed the MIB to take a decision on Arasu’s application. Second, Arasu was earlier granted CAS licence to operate in Chennai,” the official stated.

On 31 March 2017, the deadline for last and final phase of DAS, Arasu had issued a letter to all broadcasters stating that they could not switch off analogue signals in Tamil Nadu since there was an interim stay granted by the Madras High Court.

TRAI had in December 2012 reiterated its earlier stand that government or government-owned entities should not be allowed to enter the business of broadcasting or distribution of television channels.

It had also recommended that in case the central government had already accorded permission to any state government or its entity to enter the cable distribution platform, then it should provide an appropriate exit route.

In fact, Arasu’s DAS application had been put on hold for almost five years by successive governments citing TRAI’s recommendations.

In December 2016, MoS in the MIB Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore had told the Lok Sabha that the decision on awarding a DAS licence to Arasu would be taken after the Inter-Ministerial Committee took a call on TRAI’s recommendations on the entry of state-owned companies in the TV broadcasting sector.

“The recommendations of TRAI are under the consideration of the IMC. Their applications will be processed on receipt of IMC recommendations,” Rathore had said.

Arasu had applied to the MIB for grant of DAS licence for Chennai and the rest of Tamil Nadu on 5 July 2012 and 23 November 2012 respectively.

In fact, the grant of DAS licence to Arasu was always on the agenda of former Tamil Nadu CM late J Jayalalithaa during her meetings with current Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former PM Dr Manmohan Singh.

Arasu provides 90–100 channels to its subscribers at an affordable cost of Rs 70 per month. It provides the service to 7.05 million subscribers through 26,246 local cable operators (LCOs) from 82 head-ends across the state. To date, the MSO has connected 3.40 lakh subscribers in the Chennai metro area through 820 LCOs.

Even though it did not get a DAS licence, Arasu had taken steps to digitalise cable TV services in the Chennai metropolitan area. It had floated a tender for the supply of installation, testing and commissioning of digital headend with conditional access system (CAS), subscriber management system (SMS) and one million set-top boxes (STBs) on rate contract basis for one year on 25 September 2012.

Arasu had procured an initial lot of 50,000 STBs. Out of this, 28,752 STBs have already been distributed to 383 LCOs. It invested Rs 20.72 crore in upgrading its digital control room, purchase of STBs, CAS, SMS and other items.