The deadline for cable TV digitisation has been extended in Kolkata till January 15, bringing some relief to the cable operators in the city. Reports in the media quoted Swapan Chowdhury, convener of the Cable Operators Digitisation Committee of the Association of Cable Operators in the city, as saying, “In a meeting recently, it has been decided that the deadline should be extended. We have got temporary respite till Jan 15.”

No more deadline extensions

Deadline extended till January 15 in Kolkata (Image credit: Getty Images)

The operators in Kolkata are reportedly confused by the pressure of the Central Government's mandate to go digital by December 27, and the Mamata Banerjee-led state government's strong opposition to the move. Chowdhury said, “Despite the extension we are still sandwiched between the Information and Broadcasting Ministry's orders and the state government. They are yet to reach a solid conclusion.”

He highlighted that despite the extension, the operators feel that complete digitisation will not be possible by the new date. Currently, only 60 percent of consumers in the city have gone in for set-top boxes. By January 15, operators expect the numbers to go upto around 80 to 85 percent. “Most of the English and Hindi channels have been blocked, but a few popular channels are on. The Bengali channels are still on the air,” he added. 

It came to light earlier this month that some pay channels were inaccessible in Kolkata across homes that have not gone digital yet. The analogue transmission of sports channels was reportedly inaccessible some weeks prior, and earlier this month, children's and English news channels went off too. Incidentally, even as the blackout was in sync with the Information and Broadcasting Ministry's pre-scheduled date for transition, it comes at a time when the state government has advised multi-service operators against blackouts.

Multi-service operators said they would stop the transmission of all English movie channels in analogue on Thursday. Only after this move is the process expected to “encounter hiccups as a determined state government prepares to foil the Centre's attempt to enforce digitisation without taking the state government into confidence.”

An MSO official said, “What should have been a combined initiative to phase out analogue channels and go completely digital has turned into a political tussle with the state opposing I&B's plan and the Centre refusing to initiative a dialogue with state authorities. As a result, the industry is facing threat from both quarters.

Another stakeholder added, “On the one hand, we face the threat of losing our license from the I&B ministry if we do not stick to the switchover deadline. On the other hand, disregarding the wishes of the state government is not an option as it will become difficult to conduct business. While both sides have valid arguments for and against the digital roll-out, it is they who need to sit, talk and arrive at a solution rather than train the gun on MSOs.”

Interestingly, subscribers were miffed about the fact that the state government did not specify a deadline. Reports at the time added that with the state voicing its opposition to the transition, “the momentum in seeding of set-top boxes has been lost.” An industry official said, “Major MSOs have managed to seed 75-80 percent boxes. The rest will happen only when the analogue channels go off. Also, there is a 10-15 percent mismatch between the original subscriber base announced by cable operators and the revised estimates being handed out now. One just can't continue to wait endlessly till every home has a box because that is never going to happen voluntarily.”

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