Friday, 1 March 2013

Digitalisation Losing Lustre

A recent review by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has shown that more than 55% digitisation target has been achieved in 38 cities, set for digitisation by March 31st 2013.
This was expected because the same way Ministry had announced the success of Phase-I, just a month before its deadline. However Ground reality is very different. Everyone in the industry knows that even the Phase-I cities have not completed digitalization the way it was targeted. There is no addressability, the very reason DAS law was framed. No choice has yet been given to the consumers and no taxes have gone into the Government coffers.

Even if we believe that 55% of all the 38 cities have been digitalized, only one month is left to achieve the rest 45%. Considering that about 10 million more boxes have to be seeded and cost of STBs have gone up with increase in import duty, the task is next to impossible. But I am sure, Ministry will announce once again a great achievement not less than 95% by the end of the month.
I really wonder why the Ministry has to rant the success of DTH opewrators in cable TV digitalization. Either the Ministry officials issuing the reports do not understand what is cable TV or their aim is to help DTH gain from the failure of cable TV industry to match up with the unreasonable time lines set by the Ministry. 

Misleading Reports by Ministry

As per the report of the Ministry as on 22 February, 2013, a total of 87.7 lakhs Set Top Boxes(STBs) have already been installed in Phase-II cities against the target of 1.60 crore, registering an achievement of 55% digitisation. Out of a total of 87.7 Lakhs, DTH connections accounted for 40.7 Lakhs, whereas cable STBs accounted for 47.0 Lakhs.
If we put these figures in the right perspective of seeding of cable TV STBs, the progress is not more than 30%. DTH seeding is not new and a DTH connection cannot be counted as a cable connection. 
In her speech in the Parliament while presenting the DAS Amendment in November 2011, Mrs Ambika Soni, the then Minister of Information and Broadcasting had promised the following:-
  • Interest of small operators will be looked after. HITs, a digital technology, already existing will help them to run their digital networks.
  • Consumers of rural areas will receive digital services through DTH and HITs.
  • Digitalisation will prove to be a major step to metamorphose the cable industry.
As we see now, none of this is happening. HITS has not taken off. In the mean while business of small operators is going to either the DTH companies or the large MSOs who are part of the vertically integrated business groups who own MSO networks, DTH, content aggregators and TV Channels. 

Phase-I 

Digitalisation is not completed in Phase I metros yet. STBs have been forced upon consumers without giving them any benefits promised by the Ministry like choice of content, control of billing, quality of service and value added services of internet etc.
Four months have passed when Phase-I was declared successful by the Ministry but not even a single consumer has been given billing generated by SMS system of MSOs because there is no addressability. Consumer KYC forms are not yet filled and fed into the SMS and Billing system. Consumers are all getting analog billing so far and paying lumpsum. TRAI has now sent the notices to MSOs and LCOs to make the SMS operational but how can it happen till the MSOs publicise their packages to the consumers and let them make a choice? Also it has to be seen how the consumers accept the new packages paying subscription twice or thrice of what they did for analogue cable.   STB Certification will further cause delays
Quality of signal given is very poor as poor quality imported STBs are being seeded to hurry up with the seeding. Now the Department of Electronics and IT has ordered that all STBs must confirm to Indian Standards from April onwards. The process of certification takes a minimum of one month. To make the manufacturing comply with these standards will also take time. Many orders will be renegotiated. Many areas in the Metros still carry analog signals or unencrypted signals because signals are not encrypted. 
a)In Chennai the High Court has officially allowed analog signal. ARASU does not have DAS license but it is demanding money directly from consumers. Cable Operators have just inaugurated their Digital headend on 14th February 2013. Ministry officials are promoting performance of only Sun Group owned SCV having a digital headend since 2003. 
b)In Kolkata, many areas inhabited by poor people still get analog signals because CM Mamta Bannerjee wants all existing consumers to be able to afford STBs if total Digitalisation has to be implemented. 
c) In Delhi and Mumbai many new MSOs whose license was delayed by the Ministry are yet to get their full consignment of STBs and have already lost much of their business to some big MSOs in the good books of the Ministry officials.

Phase II

Digital LosingIn Phase II not even a single independent MSO has been given license till date when only one month is left for the deadline. Ministry claims that in these 38 cities of Phase-II, it has already issued provisional registration to 30 Independent MSOs. However according to information available with Cable Quest, this is only on papers. Till 25 February, no licenses were issued where as the national MSOs already had the license to operate in all the cities, giving them a clear advantage. One can easily guess how these new MSOs will set up their networks in one month.
It speaks of Ministry’s bias against smaller players who have been running their business successfully since last twenty years.
STBs are not available for consumers. Ministry officials are reporting reduced number of connections and a lower STB requirement to show their achievement. Each multiple TV house hold is being counted as one and numbers are further reduced by the number of DTH connections. In most of the 38 cities even the headends are in the process of being installed. STBs have not yet arrived from China. Consolidation of networks is going on.
None of the MSOs have given BIS certified STBs to consumers fulfilling the requirement of the new government notification dated 3rd October 2013. It is surprising that Ministry Officials have not yet taken any step to ensure this. It amounts to stake holders supplying illegal equipment to consumers with the sanction of the Ministry. It is also a way of cheating the consumers who are being forced to pay their hard earned money to buy illegal STBs.
Because of some vested interests, Ministry officials are trying to prove that they can implement total digitalisation in the whole country in three years, a task which developed countries like USA and UK could not complete even in ten years. These countries provided billions of dollars to people to go digital. Wonder whose money these officials are banking upon to force a private industry run by thousands of small entrepreneurs to spend billions of precious foreign exchange. Since LCOs are the only people interacting with the consumers, they are being blamed for all the bad outcome of the faulty policies of the government. They understand that Digitalisation is important for their business but they also are feeling that government is using them for its vested interests to help some big players to usurp their business using bad policies. An Unbalanced Task Force
 The Ministry has set up a Task Force exclusively for Phase-II cities to oversee and monitor the digitisation process in Phase-II. To represent LCOs (Local Cable Operators) they have taken three persons from Lucknow, Hyderabad and Rajkot. These mentioned persons are either distributors or JV Partners of one big vertically integrated MSO or Hardware dealer/ supplier of STBs (Set Top Box).
None of the Local Association has been taken from Gujarat, Karnataka, Punjab, J&K  etc. where cable TV density is very high.

Seminar on Digitisation

BES (Broadcast Engineering Society)  Bangalore held a DAS Seminar in Chancery Hotel on 18.02.2013 in the name of DAS (Digitalisation) where Ministry’s technical advisor Mr Yogendra Pal was an honoured Guest. Although the seminar was to help the local MSOs and the LCOs, Rs 1200 was charged as the entry fee. It was more or less a money making event in the name of DAS which was supported by the Ministry and sponsored by international hardware vendors. 
BES has become a “Profit Making Venture”. Instead of giving free education to LCOs they charged Rs 1200 per operator as Entry Fee. They called operators from outside Bangalore and Mysore where DAS is not being implemented in 2nd Phase.

MIB Facebook Account Closed

Surprisingly, Ministry has closed down its Face Book account that was made to help people informed about the progress of Digitalisation and help stake holders clear their doubts. 
Ministry’s DAS website www.digitalindiamib.com  is also not updated after the first phase. Still the Ministry claims that it is monitoring the progress minutely in all the cities.

Source: http://cablequest.org/articles/col-kk-sharma/item/1851-digitalisation-losing-lustre.html
Source: http://cablequest.org/articles/col-kk-sharma/item/1851-digitalisation-losing-lustre.html

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