An Uphill Task

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SummaryThe government and the broadcast industry say it has been a smooth switchover to digitised cable television for the four metros, but close to a month later issues such as carriage fees and interconnection agreements continue to rankle. As multi system operators turn their focus to the 38 cities to be digitised by March 31 of the coming year under the second phase, the task is expected to be even tougher.

The mandatory digitisation drive in India, embarked upon by the ministry of information and broadcasting (I&B) is turning out to be one cobbled road. While the digitisation sun has risen in the two metropolitan cities of Mumbai and Delhi, it has eluded Kolkata and Chennai. Both cities are still locked in analog cable. Chennai, which had seen the introduction of CAS (conditional access system), continues to receive analog signals and cable operators have been given at least three extensions by the courts. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has been vocal on all public platforms that set top boxes (STBs) cannot be thrust on the people of Kolkata. She has alleged that there was a shortage of STBs and that people did not have enough purchasing power.

While the ministry struggles with the first phase, the daunting task of the second phase looms ahead. Thirty eight cities across 15 states will have to be digitised by March 31, 2013. Boxes in excess of 13 million will be required, which means that each multi system operator (MSO) will have to cough up anywhere between Rs 300-500 crore. Out of these, Maharashtra has at least nine cities that are set to digitise, while Uttar Pradesh has as many as seven cities. Hathway Cable and Datacom leads the pack amongst MSOs because it is present in over 65% of the cities covered in the second phase, said analysts. It is closely followed by Den Networks (which has a distribution joint venture with Star Network called Star DEN which is now part of MediaPro) present in 19 cities and Siti Cable Network (a part of the Zee Group) in 18-plus cities, they add. In Mumbai and Delhi, most areas are digitised—95% as per stakeholders but key pockets continue to relay analog signals.

Man Jit Singh, chief executive of television broadcast company Multi Screen Media (MSM) and president of Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), the apex body for broadcasters in India, said that digitisation had been a tremendous success, and the ministry of information and broadcasting should be lauded for its efforts. “Nowhere else in the world has such a large effort been completed with relatively few problems. Any analog signals that exist in Delhi, Mumbai or Kolkata are illegal and a criminal act. The IBF and its members are committed to switch off all such signals and have set up teams in each city to conduct raids

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