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MSOs urge MIB to allow infra sharing for DAS IV

MUMBAI: Multi-system operators (MSOs) have urged the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) to allow infrastructure sharing to speed up digital addressable system (DAS) implementation in Phase IV, which covers rural areas.

The issue was raised by IndusInd Media and Communications Ltd (IMCL) SVP marketing Subhashish Mazumdar, Siti Networks COO Anil Malhotra, GTPL COO Shaji Matthews and the DEN Networks representative during the Task Force meeting on 18 January.

The Task Force chairperson asked them to send a proposal to the ministry for consideration.

Mazumdar stated that infrastructure sharing would boost progress in Phase IV areas. He also mentioned the issue of connectivity in remote areas such as Assam. However, he said that since there were clear-cut directions for the implementation of Phase III, progress of STBs installation would gear up in Phase IV areas.

Malhotra also referred to some connectivity problems in far-flung Phase IV areas. He requested that infrastructure sharing be permitted, adding that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was having consultation in this regard. He said that they were required to carry all channels on fibre networks in remote areas, which raised the cost of carrying of channels.

He suggested that MSOs be allowed to take 80 channels from the DD Freedish.

Malhotra raised the issue of Andhra Pradesh State FiberNet Ltd (APSFL), which has been providing cable TV services on the optical fibre network infrastructure. He mentioned that state governments had issued directions to the cable operators for removal of cables from all the electricity poles. He added that MSOs were afraid of the same and that they might not be able to provide cable services.

Matthews also stressed the need of infrastructure sharing, pointing out that TRAI should make an early recommendation on it. He mentioned that, as per terms and conditions mentioned in the ministry’s MSO registration letter, no infrastructure sharing was possible since a separate own headend was required by the MSOs. The Den Networks representative also raised the issue of infrastructure sharing.

MIB advisor (DAS) Yogendra Pal said that only 32% seeding of set-top boxes (STBs) had taken place in Phase IV areas. He, however, added that the actual seeding data would be much more, may be up to 50%, as some MSOs were not filling seeding data in spite of repeated requests and that some MSOs were not filling full data.

In this regard, the chairperson stated that a major MSO in Hyderabad had stated that he had seeded 17 lakh STBs whereas the ministry’s website shows that he had seeded only 1 lakh STBs. In this regard, it was decided to write to all the nodal officers as well as state governments for these discrepancies. The associations concerned were requested to ensure their members faithfully enter the correct details so as to avoid any discrepancies.

Hathway Cable representative Ajay Singh stated that though there were some problems in Andhra Pradesh, they were seeding the boxes in Phase IV areas and would be able to accelerate the seeding in February/March 2017. He added that they were monitoring the process on weekly basis.

Matthews stated that the situation in Gujarat was very good and now they were seeding in Phase IV areas, but the position in other states was not so good despite efforts. He complained that some of the broadcasters, especially Star India, were still providing analogue IRDs and no separate IRDs had been provided for Phase III and Phase IV areas to the MSOs.

Broadcasters should be asked to give professional IRDs for carrying of digital signals for Phase III as well as Phase IV areas, he said.

The ministry directed broadcasters to provide separate IRDs for Phase III and Phase IV areas.

When the ministry pointed out that Entertainment Tax Department of the UP government had complained that MSOs did not provide them data from the subscriber management system (SMS), the DEN representative pointed out that representative of UP government wanted user ID and password and not the SMS output. In this regard, he said that the user ID and password could not be shared but SMS data would be shared.

Representative of Sony Pictures Networks India pointed out that they had already issued directions to switch off analogue signals in Phase III areas from 1 February. He raised the issue as to how to cut the signals to Arasu Cable for Phase Ill areas as they had been providing analogue signals in Tamil Nadu.

In this regard, Pal mentioned that as per Madras High Court directions analogue signals of Arasu Cable could not be disturbed until the ministry decided on their MSG registration applications.

Regarding domestic production of STBs, the representative of CEAMA stated that demonetisation and reduction of import duty to zero from ASEAN countries was affecting the requirement of indigenous STBs from the service providers.

He added that they were still in the planning mode of raising the demand of STBs from the indigenous manufacturers. He hoped that some medium and small-sized players would place orders after 31 January 2017 when Phase III digitisation would be over.

The representatives from the state governments outlined their readiness and action being taken by them with regard to successful implement of digitisation. They mentioned that they were holding meetings with stakeholders.

The representative from Odisha mentioned that the principal secretary had a meeting on 25 November and reviewed the progress of digitisation. They had prepared district-wise data for the registered MSOs, unregistered MSOs, MSOs who are seeding data and those who are not seeding.

The chairperson appreciated the efforts being made by the Odisha government and exhorted other states to take similar steps. She directed that measures taken by the Odisha government be shared with all the states. The nodal officer from Odisha was asked to send a note on the steps being taken by them for circulation to all the states.

One MSO stated that in a letter the district administration in Aurangabad, Maharashtra had directed local MSOs not to stop analogue. The chairperson asked the ministry to get details in this regard.

MSOs said that in at least 20% of rural and remote/hilly areas cable TV digitization might not be financially and technically viable even though analogue might be working there. These remote areas could be best served by DTH. It was learnt that some DTH operators had packages only for FTA channels, but they actually did not offer the same to the public.

The chairperson directed DTH operators to examine the issue and come out with cost-effective packages especially for remote and inaccessible areas where it is not possible for MSOs to provide digital cable services.

Some of the representatives said that a Hong Kong-based company, called ABS Technologies, whose teleport is outside India, could provide DTH services. The boxes of this company were freely available in the market and that it was providing free-to-air (FTA) channels. BARC had captured this data, they claimed. The chairperson asked the representatives to examine this issue.