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MIB’s update on deployment of STBs and status of Phase IV digitisation

MUMBAI: With just a little over a month away for the final phase of cable TV digitisation in India, the multi-system operators (MSOs) have still not geared up to deploy adequate set-top boxes (STBs).

Though there is no data yet on the total number of STBs seeded in Phase IV, indications are that there is still a lot of ground to cover.

In the period between 31 August and 25 October 2016, 19.66 lakh (1.97 million) STBs were seeded in Phase IV, according to the data provided by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB). In Phase III, 8.76 lakh STBs were seeded during this period. Combined, 28.43 lakh (2.84 million) boxes were deployed in these two months.

The total number of STBs deployed in India is 9.24 crore (92.4 million), according to MIB data till 25 October 2016.

So, where does digital addressable system (DAS) in Phase IV stand? As per earlier MIB data till 26 July 2016, 1.78 crore (17.8 million) STBs were seeded in Phase IV areas. Combined with the new data, this would mean 19.77 million boxes have been placed in Phase IV areas. There will be a few further additions as data is not available for the period between 26 July and 31 August, but the gravity of the situation would not be far different.

The last and final phase of DAS covers 61.08 million TV rural households spanning 28 states and six union territories, as per data provided by the MIB based on 2011 Census report. The deadline for DAS Phase IV ends on 31 December 2016.

With average revenue per user (ARPU) being low and cost on expanding the fibre network to the smaller pockets of Phase IV areas being high, several multi-system operators (MSOs) have not had aggressive plans to extend their footprint. The common view is that direct-to-home (DTH) operators have an advantage to mop up more subscribers in Phase IV areas.

Meanwhile, MIB Advisor (DAS) mentioned at the 18th Task Force meeting held on 26 October that nodal officers have been supplied with the passwords to access state-wise specific reports from the management information system.

I&B joint secretary (P&A) Mihir Kumar Singh, who was chairing the task force, mentioned that the ministry may analyse the district-wise seeding data and send the status of progress of seeding of STBs to the respective states for further action.

Representatives of national MSOs mentioned that the seeding in Phase IV areas was not satisfactory due to various court cases for Phase III and the status will drastically change once these cases are disposed of by the Delhi High Court.

It was also mentioned that most of the headends serving Phase IV areas are located in Phase III areas and hence transition to DAS in Phase IV areas should not pose any problem.

Singh asked the members to suggest measures to implement Phase IV of digitisation by the notified cut-off date.

The following suggestions were provided by the stakeholders:

  • i. Ministry should as a pre-emptive measure consider filing caveats.
  • ii. Ministry should consider extending the date till March 2017 in line with the draft revised tariff orders of TRAI.
  • iii. Representative of TRAI mentioned that revision of regulations and tariff orders is a routine exercise and cut-off date should not be linked with the issue of draft tariff orders. He was opposed to any extension of cut-off date of phase IV as this will send a wrong signal to the industry.
  • iv. Representatives of CEAMA & DTH also opposed any extension of cut-off date.

The representative of Consumer Electronics and Appliances Manufacturers Association (CEAMA) mentioned that no major purchase orders have been received by the indigenous STB manufacturers from MSOs.

He did not have the specific data on deployment of iCAS by the indigenous STB manufacturers and assured to send the same to the ministry very soon.

The representative of Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) mentioned that very few requests have so far been received by them from MSOs for interconnect agreements for Phase IV areas.

For the purpose of impact assessment of digitisation in cable TV sector, the MIB had met the state level officers on 19 September and requested them to send the district wise data on entertainment tax collection in their states for the last four years.

Already data had been received from some states. It was decided that a reminder may be issued to the states to send the same within a fortnight.

The issues raised by MSOs with regard to providing broadband through cable were discussed. MSOs were informed that a committee has been formed in DoT to discuss these issues.