Cable operators take on I&B at digitization meet

25 May,2012

By Meghna Sharma

 

With May coming to an end and only a month left for digitization, the Information & Broadcasting Ministry is trying its level best to get the stakeholders to a mutual consensus. A forum was organized by FICCI and I&B ministry in Mumbai to share some thoughts on ‘ India going Digital’.

 

Present at the event, Supriya Sahu, Joint Secretary (Broadband & Policy) and Rajiv Takru, Additional Secretary of Ministry of I&B heard what the cable operators of the city had to say. It is not a hidden fact that cable operators aren’t very happy with the whole process. Deadline date, revenue share and carriage fee were some of the strong points put forward by them.

 

Cable operators’ woes

The operators stood unanimous as they put their issues in front of I&B Ministry. The issues on which they wanted answers to varied from them being given a ‘chor’ tag to why they should collect entertainment tax for the state government.

 

Although the topic of revenue share was top of the list, none of the operators agreed with the 45:55 share with the MSOs and wanted the government to do something about it. “How will we survive?” they questioned. The cable operators want a bigger share in the pie; some even suggested of a full 100 per cent share.

 

Some operators even went on to tell the government to re-work the deadline and launch a phase-by-phase change, wherein both analog and digitization be allowed hand-in-hand, with only a few channels being converted in the beginning.

 

One operator even compared the cable operators with Jesus and said that they’ll be carrying the set-up boxes to their funerals. Availability of the set-up boxes is a major concern as many reminded the ministry representatives that MSOs have not been able to provide them with the boxes even as the deadline looms in. “How does the government expect us to meet the deadline when we haven’t been provided with the set-up boxes. We don’t even know if the demand will be met before the blackout. And how are we going to face the wrath of our customers when their television sets go blank?” questioned one operator.

 

Carriage fee was a topic on which all of them agreed upon, stating that they alone shouldn’t be allowed to bear its burden. They also wanted the ministry to intervene and tell the broadcasters to bring out their rate cards as soon as possible so that they can, in turn, inform their customers.

 

Ministry’s assurance

Rajiv Takru, Additional Secretary of Ministry of I&B, confirmed that no matter the issues raised or problems faced, digitization will not be compromised upon. “There is still some confusion and doubts in many cable operators’ minds, but one needs to be very clear that digitization will happen and shouldn’t be taken lightly.”

 

He advised the cable operators to start working on it as very little time is left. He added that it is cable operators’ job to go and talk to their customers about digitization becoming a reality soon. “Multi-system operators (MSOs) have been informed to provide cable operators with set-up boxes before the deadline of June 30 and they will have to follow suit. It is the cable operator’s job to convince customers to change before it’s too late to avoid the chaos.”

 

He added that the rules of the game have been changed and if anyone is caught evading rules or indulging in any malpractice then according to the Cable Regulation Act, the person will be arrested and made to shut shop as it has now become a cognizable offence.

 

The broadcasters have been informed and will bring out rate cards by end of this month, Mr Takru assured: “Broadcasters and MSOs have to go by the rules and have to come out with bouquet as well as a-la-carte channels. One needs to understand that digitization is a win-win situation. The customer will be able to chose and cable operators will be able to provide the best quality service.”

 

Direct to Home (DTH) service is seen as the biggest opponent by cable operators and feel that DTH operators don’t want them to reach the deadline, especially with monsoons approaching as they do not get many customers in the season. To this Mr Takru assured cable operators stating that they shouldn’t see DTH as a challenge: “A lot of DTH operators are still waiting in line to get more channels as they don’t have sufficient signals/transponders whereas cable operators will be able to provide 500 channels to their customers.”

 

No end to the chaos

However, no concrete solutions came out of the meeting as the atmosphere at the forum heated up. The cable operators continued demanding the deadline to be pushed back while Mr Takru only said that their point has been noted.

 

Furthermore, the cable operators didn’t let the MSOs present at the event speak their side of the problem or issues. The agitation ended when Mr Takru and Ms Sahu walked out of the venue citing shortage of time and the MSOs escaped with them.

 

 

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