The wait for the cable TV transition (read digitization) has now got pushed further to November 1, 2012 after it was found that only 25 percent of set top boxes were placed in cable TV homes across the four metros – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai, just days before the switch was originally scheduled (June 30, 2012), as reported by the Times of India.
The report further revealed that, “The I&B ministry said that it had decided to “modify'' the June 30 deadline for a complete switch over to October 31 2012. A statement by the ministry said, “All the TRAI regulations for digital addressable systems will come into effect from November 1, 2012.'' It said that the assessment of ground realities compelled the Ministry of I&B to set a new deadline which would now be monitored more vigorously.“
The report further quoted a ministry official as saying, “Only one-fourth of TV viewing houses have access to set top boxes. There was also a delay by TRAI in introducing the tariff order that came in April instead of January.“
Reportedly, delays also occurred in the signing of interconnect agreements between cable operators and MSOs. All MSOs, the report added, were to install a consumer redressal system, complete with a complaint centre with toll free consumer care number, web based complaint monitoring system, while also designating one or more nodal officers and publishing consumer's charter. “This had not been done effectively,” the report stated.
In an earlier report, it was speculated that the deadline may be pushed further, but at that time, nothing concrete had come forward. It was reported then that cable operators were moving to the court seeking an extension to the aforementioned deadline to complete the digitization process across the four metros. In a Times of India report, it was then cited that in Chennai, stakeholders, like the government-run Arasu Cable TV Corporation and Sun TV Network's Sumangali Cable Vision were not fully ready to meet the pre-set July 1 deadline.
The I&B Ministry, too had hinted at the fact that there were chances that the deadline may be extended on a city-to-city basis, if need be. Chennai and Kolkata, reportedly were far from what would require them to reach the stipulated deadline. In Chennai, only 12.5 percent of the subscribers have set-top boxes. This report also carried the quote of P Sakilan, the operators' association president, who added that, “It is highly impossible to launch digital network in Chennai before July.” Sakilan further stated that even if they were to provide the set-top boxes for free to the viewers, it would take four months to import them, test-run them, and deliver to 40 lakh viewers in Chennai. Sakilan, had also stated that the biggest challenge for operators lay in convincing the masses to pay amounts like Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 1,500 for the set-top boxes, moreso because of the total 40 lakh viewers in Chennai, roughly 25 lakh belong to the middle and lower class families, who would find the amount beyond their means.
Cable operators across Mumbai and Delhi, reportedly had moved court seeking an extension to the deadline, and according to the earlier report an Edelweiss report had revealed that both, Chennai and Kolkata would likely miss the deadline and that the respective governments had sought for a deadline extension.
Kolkata, too has been facing a similar issue, and in a Hindu Business Line report, it was highlighted that 90 percent of cable TVs in the city were yet to be digitized. The same report further quoted Mr. Swapan Chowdhury, Secretary of Kolkata-based Cable and Broadband Operators' Welfare Association, as saying, “Only 5 lakh out of an estimated 40 lakh cable TV users in the city have so far opted for digitised signal (through set-top box).“
For those consumers in cities, like Pune, Ahmedabad and Bangalore, where the size of the population exceeds 1 million, the shift was to come in a little later, i.e. by March 2013. However, now with the scheduled roll-out for the four metros being delayed, one can expect it to impact the roll-out across other regions, too.
This move by the government comes post an amendment to the Section 4A of the Cable Regulation Act, 1995, which now directs the compulsory implementation of mandatory addressable digitization (MAD). The new ruling essentially implies that all cable operators will have to, before their aforementioned deadlines switch the signals that they transmit to digital, instead of the earlier analog.