[95 Days to D-Day] No negotiation on deadline: MIB

28 Mar,2012

By Shruti Pushkarna

 

Once again the government of India maintained its hard stand on the issue of digitization. Speaking at a FICCI organized seminar, ‘India going Digital: An Industry Interaction with Stakeholders’, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Rajiv Takru, made it very clear that the June 30th deadline is not subject to any negotiation. Addressing all stakeholders, the LCOs, MSOs and the broadcasters, Mr Takru said, “All analog will be switched off from July 1. The June 30th deadline is not negotiable at all. So all stakeholders should pace up and brace the change.”

 

The seminar on digitization was organized by FICCI in New Delhi in partnership with the government of India. Participating in the event were all stakeholders, from local cable operators (LCOs), to multi-system operators (MSOs) as well as broadcasters. The seminar was organized to address issues faced by various stakeholders in the run up to the switch over from analog to digital.

 

Mr Takru started off by saying that there are several rumours in the market that he would like to belie. The first being the unavailability of set top boxes (STBs). He said, “In Delhi there is a requirement of around 33 lakh STBs out of which 7 to 8 lakh STBs are already installed. And around 28 lakh STBs have already been ordered for and they are at various points in delivery. So whoever tells you that there are not enough STBs, is all false.” Secondly, he said there is a lot of talk about the sunset date being extended, he said that the deadline was absolutely sacrosanct and all industry stakeholders will have to follow it as an order. However, he admitted that the task that lay ahead is not easy but knowing the weaknesses of analog, this seems to be the best way forward for all. Mr Takru said that digitization is good for everyone and especially for the consumer. He said, “Digitization is in the larger interest of the consumer and if it hurts a few then so be it. This initiative is not being undertaken to promote any particular business interest, it is a larger step in the move towards digital.”

 

Also addressing the gathering was Ms Supriya Sahu, Joint Secretary (Broadvast & Policy), Ministry of Information & Broadcasting. Sharing some numbers with the audience Ms Sahu said, “There are 33 lakh cable TV homes and around 5000 cable operators. There are 5 national MSOs and several independent MSOs. The task ahead is difficult and we need to especially reach out to the migrant workers and slum dwellers.” She also said that the government was doing its bit by running ads on radio and TV for consumer awareness. A toll free number has been set up for all kinds of queries on the matter, and the ministry also has a Facebook page where issues can be addressed. However, she urged the LCOs to get into the act now. She said, “You need to start contacting all your consumers to pass on the message because time is very limited.” She assured all stakeholders that although the rules are still being framed by the ministry, once out, they will only ease the process of transition for everyone involved. She said that there were no substantial changes that the ministry is going to make to the existing framework for the benefit of all stakeholders.

 

Despite all assurances of support from the government representatives, the industry stakeholders seemed unconvinced. Ministry representatives invited questions for discussion from the audience and it was evident from the several points raised at the forum that there were varied levels of discomfort among the stakeholders. While some were hoping that there will be an extension to the sunset date, some hoped that there will be subsidies in sight. But putting all doubts to rest, Mr Takru said, “There will be no free STBs provided for by the government, just like there is no such thing as free lunch. There are no subsidies being contemplated by the government at this point.” He said however, the service providers are putting their services out in the market with heavy amount of subsidy built in, like the cost of a set top box is already subsidized.”

 

A concern was voiced by a local cable operator with regards to the quality of STBs. He said, “Often there are issues with the set top box provided by the MSO and once the customer buys the STB, he/she is stuck with it. Since the LCO is the link between the end user and the MSO, what does the LCO do if the consumer wants to return the STB and get another one?” Addressing his query Mr Takru said, “The government is devising a scheme where a customer can return a STB he/she has purchased. The refund guidelines etc. are being worked upon by the ministry. The LCO can also return the STB to the MSO and get a refund in return.”

 

Addressing a concern over the tariff for channels, Mr Takru said that TRAI will soon notify the tariffs which will apply to all, including the LCO, MSO, broadcaster as well as the customer. On repeated complaints over lack of availability of STBs from the MSOs’ end, Mr Takru told several LCOs present that they were free to change their MSO if the MSO refused to provide them with required STBs. But he also urged the cable operators to cooperate with the MSOs in the switch over process.

 

The seminar was followed by a press conference by the ministry officials. Addressing the media, Mr Takru said, “The discussion with the stakeholders was very interesting and we managed to address several concerns of all the stakeholders.” The Additional Secretary reiterated for the media that there were more than required STBs available in the market and the deadline was non-negotiable. Speaking of the tariff for channels, Mr Takru said, “We don’t expect the tariff structure to rise or to go beyond what it is today.” He also said that consumer awareness initiatives are being undertaken by the ministry, which has already put up radio jingles on AIR FM Gold and Rainbow. Two TV spots will be on air soon on all national and private channels. The IBF and NBA are also carrying tickers as an initiative to raise consumer awareness on the subject.

 

Mr Takru concluded by saying that this process might leave a few unhappy but because it is being done in the larger public interest, the government is forced to ignore certain concerns being voiced by a smaller group. He said that digitization will empower the customer who will now have the ‘choice’ to watch what he/she desires to watch unlike the present day scenario when the customer is dependent on what is offered by the cable operator.

 

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