New Delhi: The information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry has extended the deadline for phase IV of cable television digitisation by three months to 31 March 2017, owing to the “unsatisfactory progress of installation of set top boxes (STBs) in phase IV areas".

In a statement issued on Friday, the ministry said that additional time will be provided to the remaining subscribers in phase III areas as well, to switch over to digital transmission of signals by 31 January 2017, due to ongoing court proceedings.

The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Act, 2011 had mandated a switch-over of the existing analogue cable TV networks to digital addressable system (DAS) in four phases. Digital switch-over has already taken place in phase I and II areas, while it was scheduled to be completed in phase III and phase IV areas by 31 December 2016.

However, certain multi-system operators (MSOs) and cable operators had moved various high courts and obtained either extension of the deadline or stay on the ministry orders.

MSOs own and operate multiple cable TV systems. Currently, there are 700 MSOs and 60,000 cable operators in India.

According to the statement, no further extension will be given to the operators in phase III areas. “The ministry will be issuing instructions to all the broadcasters, multi system operators, local cable operators and the authorised officers to ensure that no analog signals would be transmitted over the cable networks in phase III areas after 31 January 2017," the statement said.

The ministry will shortly issue an official notification.

Cable operators welcomed the decision. “This move was due. Digitisation is bound to take time in rural areas, especially because of the impact of demonetization. People won’t buy set-top boxes when they don’t have cash," said Roop Sharma, president of the Cable Operators Federation of India.

Sharma added that an extension of three months might not be enough. “Given the ongoing cash crunch especially in rural areas, the government might further extend the deadline," she said.

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