Mumbai: The long-awaited switch to digital cable TV services, which was to have begun with New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata on 1 July, has been delayed to 1 November.
“The ministry of information and broadcasting has decided to modify the 30 June deadline for a complete switchover to 31 October,” the ministry said in a release on Wednesday. “All the Trai (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) regulations for digital addressable systems (DAS) will come into effect from 1 November.”
The move to defer the shift to digital from analogue was made because the cities weren’t ready for the change. The ministry said it will monitor compliance with the new deadline more vigorously.
“The decision was taken after marathon sessions the ministry had with all the stakeholders,” said a ministry official, who didn’t want to be identified. “The consultations were so broadbased that no one should have a reason to complain.”
The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Act, 2011, made the switch mandatory by December 2014, in a phased manner. The initiative was prompted by the need to improve quality as well as make sure that all subscribers are properly accounted for.
The task force constituted by the ministry in April 2011, comprising stakeholders, has been monitoring progress and making field visits.
The decision received mixed reactions from stakeholders— the broadcasters were not too pleased, while the so-called multi-system operators (MSOs) seemed to be relieved.
“It is disappointing. However, we understand the reasons for the postponement and hope that all stakeholders work together to meet the new deadline,” said Sunil Lulla, managing director and chief executive of Times Television Network, which runs the Times Now and ET Now channels. “Going forward, the government should take strict action against those who do not adhere and work to meet the deadline.”
Satellite television operator Dish TV India Ltd’s chief executive R. Venkatesh welcomed the move, saying there were logical reasons for moving the date forward.
MSO Alliance president Ashok Mansukhani said, “I’m delighted. There are 10 million households in the four metros that were to be converted to DAS. Only 2.7 million STBs (set-top boxes) were installed. To complete the remaining installations it would take us another 100-120 days. Meeting the 30 June deadline would not be possible. The new deadline will help us work in a more organised manner.”
Local cable operators in Delhi and Mumbai had a few weeks ago filed individual petitions in the high courts in the two cities against the 30 June deadline.
Trai issued tariff rules only on 30 April, instead of January as per the schedule. Various other delays had a knock-on effect on the deadlines that needed to be met.