A recent government report, which claimed that Mumbai was close to attaining 100 percent digitisation, gave the impression that when the D-day arrives, no home would face a TV blackout. However, it wasn’t long before the figures in the report were quashed by the Cable Operators Digitisation Committee, who claimed that the Information and Broadcasting ministry showed a reduced number of cable TV connections to depict higher penetration. Now, the Mumbai Cable Operators Association (MCOA) is approaching the Supreme Court with demands to extend the digitisation deadline by two months. Tech2 got in touch with Anil Parab, head of the MCOA and Shiv Sena Member of Legislative Council, in an attempt to uncover more. 

Parab shared that the two-month extension was necessary as almost 5 to 6 lakh set top boxes (STBs) are to be installed yet. In March this year, the MCOA completed 35 to 45 percent of the installation work, which went up to 70 to 75 percent in October. When asked about the figures presented by the I&B ministry on the installation numbers, Parab was quick to reply that the numbers were false. “If it were true, why are there so many people with no connection today?” he asked. He highlighted that a lot of people waited till the last moment to opt for digitisation, which left them with no connection once the deadline arrived. “How can those earning Rs 4,000 – Rs 5,000 a month afford a set top box costing so much?” he added, bringing us to another issue – affordability. Parab shared that the prices of the STBs were discouraging many to opt for digitisation. He also cited the lack of manpower in certain cases to have affected the pace. 

Control room for a smoother digitisation (Image credit: Getty Images)

An extension is now being sought (Image Credit: Getty Images)

Only a couple of days ago, the Madras High Court extended the deadline for cable TV digitisation to November 5 from October 31. Johnson D Kennedy, the president of the Chennai Metro Cable TV Operators’ Association, had filed a writ petition, based on which Justice N Paul Vasanthakumar passed the interim order. The issue was kept on hold till November 5 awaiting a reply from the Centre as well as to procure the required records. According to Kennedy, the deadline had been extended on two occasions since the regulation to implement the Digital Addressable System (DAS) had come into effect. He cited the unavailability of set top boxes (STBs) as the reason for Chennai missing the deadline — an issue that had been reported in the past too.

The ministry, in its recent statement, had revealed that it achieved 81 percent of cable TV digitisation across the four metros. Here it elaborated that the number is fairly high at 87 percent, considering the progress made by Direct To Home (DTH) services. Cable Operators Digitisation Committee convenor Swapan Chowdhury added that the estimated figure of 1.33 crore had been arrived upon based on feedback provided by the cable operators' body and stressed that the reduced figure was incorrect.

“This was done deliberately to prove digitisation a success at the cost of consumers,” Chowdhury said. He even went on to state, ''confusion prevailed in all aspects of digitisation from MSOs to local cable operators to consumers''.

“Still there is no agreement between broadcasters and MSOs. Neither the MSOs nor the cable operators have signed any agreement,” Chowdhury said.

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