Roughly a week after cable TV households in Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata reached the deadline to make the switch to the digital signal, there are reports of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting moving into the second phase of digitisation. In a recent high-level meeting headed by Uday Kumar Varma, Secretary – Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the preparedness of the Phase II cities for digitisation was gauged. As it stands now, the digitisation deadline across 38 cities in 15 states is set for March 31, 2013. 

In its official statement, the Ministry shares that it had notified on November 11, 2011 about the phase-wise digitisation of analogue cable TV networks in India. Going further, the Ministry shared that the process of digitisation of the analogue cable TV networks has been completed across Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. It added that as on November 5, 2012, 22.4 lakh STBs have been installed in Mumbai, 25.15 lakh in Delhi and 17.74 lakh STBs have been installed in Kolkata. As for Chennai, the Ministry noted that the matter is sub-judice in the Madras High Court. As per the figures released by the I&B Ministry, 29 lakh subscribers have DTH connections in the four metro cities. 

In fact, the official statement shares that the Ministry’s teams have been making extensive field visits to the headends in Mumbai and Delhi to check for violations. Further, the teams have gone as far as visiting homes to interact with people and to take a direct feedback about the running of analogue signals. 

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

Moving on to Phase II (Image credit: Getty Images)

It has also been known that the Ministry has asked the MSOs to assess the number of STBs thoroughly by taking into consideration credible data from the ground level. Importantly, MSOs have been asked to provide information about the estimated number of STBs and their procurement plans to ensure that the Phase II cities do not miss their pre-set deadline of March 31, 2013. 

“Ministry has also started working on a communication campaign to target the specific needs of 38 cities of Phase II. It was emphasized that a meticulous planning of the Phase II cities is essential incorporating learnings from Phase I cities. Ministry has planned a one day workshop in the month of November to prepare an integrated plan of action for a smooth and flawless transition in Phase II cities. Ministry had earlier written to the Chief Secretaries of the Phase II States to nominate a Nodal Officer from each State as well as from each targeted city so that a close liaison and coordination could be made with the Nodal Officers to sort out local issues. It has also been planned to put in place additional man power through BECIL to make extensive field visits in the targeted cities of Phase II. It was reiterated in the High Level meeting that the digitization deadline of 31st March 2013 would remain intact and that the preparation of Phase II should be done in right earnest to meet the notified deadline,” the statement added further. 

Recently, even as televisions running on analogue signals turned dark, residents of Chennai heaved a sigh of relief. The Madras High Court extended the deadline for cable TV digitisation from October 31 to November 5. Johnson D Kennedy, President – 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. 

Like Chennai, there were reports suggesting that Mumbai was unable to complete the switchover in time. 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 yet to be installed. 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 for many to opt for digitisation. He also cited the lack of manpower in certain cases. 

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