Cable TV digitisation deadline ends, threat of blackout for some

The deadline set by Government for Cable TV digitisation in the four Metros ended Wednesday with the switchover reaching 94 percent and those who have not installed set top boxes (STB) faced the threat of a TV blackout from Thursday.

New Delhi/Chennai: The deadline set by Government for Cable TV digitisation in the four Metros ended Wednesday with the switchover reaching 94 percent and those who have not installed set top boxes (STB) faced the threat of a TV blackout from Thursday.

TV viewers in Chennai who have not made the change, however, got some relief with the Madras High Court granting extension of the deadline till November five for the process of digitization of TV signals.

But people in Mumbai who have not installed STBs did not get any relief with the Bombay High Court refusing to grant more time to cable network providers in the city to switch to digital addressable system (DAS).

The Court, however, asked the union government to consider giving some relief to viewers during Diwali.

"We do not want people's Diwali blacked out. Television these days has become the cheapest and basic source of entertainment for average middle class family. We are concerned about the consumers and not the operators," Justice Chandrachud said.

Union Information and Broadcasting Secretary Uday Kumar Varma confirmed that analogue signals in Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai awould be switched off tomorrow but Chennai would not be in the list because of the court order.

I and B ministry's data for all the four metros combined showed digitisation of cable TV households including Direct To Home (DTH) connections upto 94 percent.

In Kolkata, there was a threat of consumers who have already installed set-top boxes also facing a TV blackout

Speaking to reporters, Cable Operators Digitisation Committee Joint Convenor Milan Chatterjee said that while the implementation could be a law and order threat, "some cable operators may also stop signals to save their skin as 60 percent of the people have not received STBs yet."

As per ministry figures, Delhi has achieved a 97 percent digitisation (including DTH connections). In the national capital where an estimated 23.06 lakh cable TV subscribers exist, 21.97 lakh had got STB installed.

Kolkata has achieved cable TV digitisation upto 85 percent (including DTH) approximately as 16.66 STBs had already been installed by 20.04 lakh cable TV subscribers in the city, the government data said.

In Chennai which has 4.14 lakh cable TV subscribers, the number of STBs estimated was estimated to be around 2.57 lakh. With DTH included, Chennai has achieved digitisation upto 86 percent, as per I&B estimates.

The government data said Mumbai was already digitised with the 15.21 lakh cable TV homes showing over 21.14 lakh installation of STBs. Officials explained that the excess number of installation of STBs could be accounted by the fact that there were multiple TV sets in many households.

Chennai Metro Cable TV Operators Association had approached the high court seeking extension of the deadline beyond October 31.

The association submitted that there was difficulty in securing so many lakhs of set-top boxes required for digitisation.

A Mumbai High Court division bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and R G Ketkar, which was hearing a petition against the June 21 notification of the I and B Ministry refused to grant any relief.

The earlier deadline of June had been extended till October 31 after cable operators sought time to install STBs (which have to be imported).

"In June, you knew you have time till October. What have you done till today?" the judges said, and added that petitioners' conduct did not merit any relief.

"A certain degree of inconvenience is inevitable in the enforcement of any deadline. The union ministry has taken this decision to cut off cable network (in the abscence of STBs) with a view to provide quality service to consumers," Justice Chandrachud said.

I & B Ministry's digitisation data for all four metros showed digitisation of cable TV households including DTH connections to up to 94 percent.

As per the data, out of a total 65.50 lakh cable TV subscribers in four metros, 62.34 lakh STBs had been installed while the rest were yet to be installed.

"In the past few days, the analogue signal has been switched off in a staggered manner. The ministry has given enough time and the deadline should not be extended further," a senior official said.

"In case some cable operator is found violating digital rules, action could be taken and even the license of the offender could be cancelled," he said.

In a statement the I&B ministry also claimed that on October 30, there was a huge surge in the installation of STBs in the four metros, especially Delhi.

"A total of 1,05,180 Boxes were installed, out of which approximately 65,000 Boxes were installed in Delhi alone. This huge increase in the number of Boxes installed in Delhi has taken up the Cable TV digitisation to 95 percent in Delhi. Along with DTH, the digitisation percentage in Delhi has gone to 97 percent," the ministry said.

It also said that Delhi's leading Multi-System Operators DEN Networks had reported installation of about 50,000 STBS on October 31 alone.

The ministry also said that its teams had found that most MSOs had operationalised Digital headends with Conditional Access System and Subscriber Management System.

Ministry teams will continue their visits in the coming days to ensure that analogue signals are completely switched off.

It also said that the Awareness Campaign would continue and SMS messages intensified to reach out to the people yet to install STBs.

The ministry claimed that its Control Room had been flooded with calls requesting information about the price of STBs and their availability.

It said that the control room had received more than 4000 calls in the last ten days.

The ministry said that yesterday 500 calls were received by the Control Room which is operational on all days from 8 am to 10 pm and has representatives of MSO to reply to queries of people.