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TRAI chairman Khullar resistant to DAS deadline extension

MUMBAI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman Rahul Khullar has written a letter to the Prime Minister’s principal secretary Nripendra Mishra, stating that the extension of the digitisation deadline could seriously hamper the efforts to provide broadband services across the country.

“Extending the timeline of the third and fourth phases to the end of 2015 and 2016, respectively, will be a major setback to the efforts of providing broadband services to all Indians,” Khullar stated in his letter.

Rahul-Khullar-3The Economic Times further reported that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has backed Khullar’s view by observing that the step can hurt the “government’s ambitious Digital India programme”.

In his letter, Khullar wrote, “”We encountered significant difficulties in ensuring that Phases I and II were effectively implemented. If implementation is now staggered, it will be a body blow to the project, primarily because momentum will be lost and it is truly very difficult to enforce compliance countrywide.”

Khullar told ET that cable TV, with its reach of about 100 million households, offers a cheaper means of providing broadband to cable consumers in urban areas and is much more reasonable than laying optic fibre.

DoT said that the National Optic Fibre Network plan can only take broadband connectivity to a certain extent beyond which the last-mile linkages to each household will have to be provided through wireless, WiFi or cable TV networks.

As per the report, the letter was written after the PMO sought a response from DoT after TRAI’S communication. The telecom secretary said “after digitisation of cable TV networks, better realisation of tax revenue for Central and state governments has been noticed.”

TRAI member Dr Vijayalakshmy K Gupta is also not in favour of the government’s decision to extend the deadline for digital addressable system (DAS). She told TelevisionPost.com that the momentum would be lost to push digital set-top boxes (STBs) in the smaller towns if the deadline was extended.

Digitisation enables routing of cable TV signals through STBs that can track channels being watched. It improves picture and sound quality on televisions for consumers, and provides higher revenue for cable operators. The first two phases covering the four metros and cities with population of more than one million were implemented by March 2013.

TRAI has been working on the third and fourth phases for the past six months under which all urban areas, including municipalities, were to be covered by the end of this month and the rest of India by 31 December 2014.

Earlier, Information & Broadcasting Ministry secretary Bimal Julka had told TelevisionPost.com that the new deadline would be December 2015. Phase IV of digital addressable system (DAS) could be December 2016. The first two phases of digitisation cover about 20 million cable TV households.

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TRAI member not in favour of extension of DAS deadline