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Games broadcast on razor’s edge

Games broadcast on razor’s edge
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First Published: Mon, Feb 15 2010. 11 38 PM IST

Updated: Mon, Feb 15 2010. 11 38 PM IST
New Delhi: A delay of nearly four months in reaching a decision appears to have almost jeopardized the international broadcasting, security and data networks of 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games (CWG).
The organizing committee’s clearance for the state-run telecom service provider Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) for establishing exclusive and dedicated network for data, security along with broadcast came last week, giving it barely enough time. While the execution of the project requires 210 days, there are 229 days left for the CWG to commence.
Not only does this make it tougher for MTNL to execute the contract, government officials believe that it may also lead to cost overruns. “The delay in the clearance has made it (the task) a challenge. But we are confident that it can be done,” said a senior MTNL executive, who did not want to be identified.
A top government official who did not want to be identified didn’t sound as optimistic and said the organizing committee’s delay in taking a decision on broadcast network (BN), games data network (GDN) and security data network (SDN), despite repeated warnings from the sports ministry, has created “a disastrous uncertainty over its completion and successful functioning and a huge cost escalation”.
The approval of the organizing committee, chaired by Congress member of Parliament Suresh Kalmadi was first sought in November. After repeated requests from the home ministry, the committee finally cleared the proposal for MTNL to establish the exclusive and dedicated communication network and also a dark fibre technology for broadcast as demanded by rights holder broadcasters (RHBs)—the group of international channels who have acquired broadcast rights to the games.
Experts say MTNL may be able to complete the task, but at significant risk. Says V. Sridhar, research fellow, Sasken Communication Technologies Ltd: “MTNL may be able to do it because it has the knowledge and expertise about the metropolis. But as it will have to subcontract it to other companies, it may lose control over the project. The short period will compromise the quality and cost also will go up.”
Mahesh Uppal, director, Com First (India) Pvt. Ltd added: “MTNL deserved much more time. Now it depends on other things falling in place. Any delay in infrastructure works—it is very time consuming—is a risk. Anybody leaves it to the last minute is increasing the high risk.”
Although the network was proposed to cost Rs290 crore (Rs182 crore would accrue from the ministry of youth affairs and sports, Rs35 crore from the ministry of home, and the CWG would contribute Rs73 crore), officials both in the department of telecom and the CWG organization committee admit that it will go up.
In a letter reviewed by Mint and issued on 3 February, sports secretary Sindhushree Khullar has expressed the ministry’s disillusionment over the undue delay the organizing committee is taking to finalize a decision. The organizing committee had earlier decided that it would provide Internet Protocol (IP)-based technology for GDN, SDN and BN. When the matter was taken up with the department of telecommunications in July, it signalled its inability to provide budgetary support to MTNL. However, the group of ministers’ (GoM) in their meeting on 11 September approved the nomination of MTNL.
On 27 January, organizing committee CEO Jarnail Singh wrote to MTNL chief Kuldeep Singh asking the company not to enter into any formal commitment with vendors for technical solutions “till the issues are discussed” and “officially decided to the satisfaction” of RHBs. RHBs were apparently not convinced about the IP-based technology solution for the broadcast network MTNL was offering.
Two days later the MTNL chairman wrote to the ministry of sports and youth affairs conveying that it was too late to incorporate changes. CWG chairman Kalmadi did not respond to these letters; subsequently, Khullar evinced similar caution in her letter. “At the risk of repetition, I would like to bring (to) your kind attention the fact that we are behind schedule in this project. Any amendment to the network configuration, at this stage, would involve considerable time delays and concomitant cost escalations. MTNL has indicated from the start that the implementation time would be 210 days. Moreover, a decision on the BN has been hanging fire with you in the OC (organizing committee) since November 2009. Therefore, I am requesting you for an urgent decision in the matter, so that further approvals could proceed.”
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First Published: Mon, Feb 15 2010. 11 38 PM IST