Thursday, 12 December 2013

DAS Progress under Review

Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Act 2011, the Notification dated 11 November 2011, Rules framed under Notification dated 28 Feb 2012 and also regulations framed consequently by TRAI to implement mandatory digitization have adversely effected millions of subscribers making them pay more than double giving no benefits of triple play, broadband, VoD etc. as promised.
The Act was brought in the interest of Consumers but MANDATORY DIGITALIZATION has proved detrimental to consumer interest and also jeopardized the livelihood of more than 60 thousand cable operators and their families. It is also creating unemployment for Lakhs of people engaged in small scale manufacturing and support services for the industry. 

Cable Operators of the country have time and again brought these facts in the knowledge of the I&B Minister, Sh Manish Tewari, TRAI Chairman, Dr Rahul Khullar and the bureaucracy but to no affect. Now they have approached the Lok Sabha Standing Committee on IT, the apex body that can review the Laws and suggest a revision to the Parliament. 
On 21 November 2013 the Committee heard the LCOs and Independent MSOs about the progress of DAS implementation. Representations of various state Cable TV Associations alongwith Cable Operators Federation of India gave their presentations before Rao Inderjit Singh, Chairman of the Committee and twenty other member present there.
Representatives of Cable Operators and Independent MSOs included Ms. Roop Sharma, President, Cable Operators Federation of India, Atul Saraf, CMD, ABS Group (Mumbai), Pramod Pandaya, President, Gujarat Cable Operators Federation (Gujarat), Swapan Chowdhury, President, Kolkata Cable and Broadband Operators Welfare Association, (Kolkata), Sudish Kumar, Karnataka Cable Operators Association (Karnataka), Chanderdeep Bhatia and Paramjit Singh, West Delhi Cable Operators Association and Independent MSOs including Jeevan Khanna (Lucknow), G S Oberoi and Gaurav Gupta from Delhi were present.
The object of the Cable TV Act was to regulate the 'haphazard mushrooming of cable television networks'. Lack of licensing mechanism for cable operators resulted in large number of cable operators broadcasting programmes without any regulation. The Act aimed at regulating content and operation of cable TV networks. This was due to the availability of signals from foreign television networks via satellite communication. The access to foreign television networks was considered to be a “cultural invasion” as these channels portrayed western culture. It also wanted to lay down the "responsibilities and obligations in respect of the quality of service both technically as well content wise, use of materials protected under the copyright law, exhibition of uncertified films, and protection of subscribers from anti-national broadcasts from sources inimical to national interests”.
Committee was told that while implementing DAS laws the objective has been overlooked. Digital Cable Networks are an information technology infrastructure governed by the telegraph Act. Due to their high bandwidth carrying capacity these networks are best suited to carry broadband signals to consumers. TV signals are only a part of the broadband signal. Apart from TV channels, they can carry internet broadband and telephony known as triple play, the purpose being pursued all over the world. This should have been the main purpose of the Digitalisation effort rather than ensuring hefty profits to some foreign broadcasters.
The law should have been amended by a joint committee of I&B Ministry and Ministry of Telecom and IT along with stakeholders. However, I&B Ministry aimed only to help large broadcasters their allied MSOs and DTH companies who were incessantly lobbying with them. Incidentally all broadcasters are digital at their downlink-end and all DTH operations are digital from their inception. They have no role to play in digitizing Cable TV networks but the ministry chose to involve them the maximum in the process sidelining the real stake holders: the cable operators. Even the progress report of the ministry always mentioned DTH connections as part of Cable TV digitisation which infact are two competing technologies having nothing to do with each other. 
 The committee had also sought LCOs' opinion on Phase III and IV of the cable TV digitisation. 
“We have demanded that the government should first sort out the Phase I and II of digitisation before moving ahead with Phase III and IV,” COFI president Roop Sharma said. 
DAS, as envisaged by the government, has not been implemented in its entirety, rues Sharma adding that all that has happened in the name of digitisation is just seeding of set-top boxes (STBs). 
ABS Group CMD Atul Saraf said, “We told the committee that the country has lost $10 billion due to importing of STBs from China. For Phase III and IV, the committee must impress upon the government to make it mandatory to source STBs from indigenous STB manufacturers.
In reply to a query regarding digitization taken place so far, the Ministry informed the Committee as under: 
“Digitisation would usher a new era in broadcasting as it would change the way television is being watched in India. It would certainly put India in the league of advanced countries which are already harvesting the benefits of digitization. xxxxx .The biggest gain of Digitization is going to be the the transparency in the broadcasting sector which will increase investments including FDI, encourage cleaner and innovative business models and unleash huge expansion of this sector. This would also provide a good opportunity for local manufacturing of Set Top Boxes, thereby in the growth which would also lead to employment generation.” 
However operators told the committee that till date, the local manufacturer has got no opportunity to manufacturer set top box neither they have been encouraged to do so. Hence, generation of employment does not arise. 
As regards the constraints faced with respect to digitization, the Ministry stated as under:- 
“Phase I of digitalization was a real challenge. The smooth transition from non-addressable cable TV system to Digital Addressable system (DAS) involves various measures. Since it is a massive exercise, which requires all stakeholders, namely, Broadcasters, Multi System Operator (MSO) and Local Cable Operators (LCOs) to get prepared in the form of putting in place requisite technical infrastructure, the Ministry of I&B, has taken following initiatives to ensure that the stipulated timelines for the DAS are adhered to. A Task Force was constituted which was meeting regularly on a fortnightly basis to keep reviewing the progress and take stock of the progress made. In Phase I, the Task Force held 20 meeting. Ministry had constituted various sub-groups of MSOs and LCOs to have focused discussion and action plan towards implementation of DAS. Separate frequent meetings were held with LCOs and MSOs to take stock of the progress on DAS and to address their concerns. Considering that the role of the State Government is crucial to its implementation at the local level, discussions were held with State Governments. Nodal officers were nominated to have regular interaction with MSOs, LCOs and public in the field. With all these efforts, DAS has come into effect in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. In Chennai it is pending due to a court case.” 
The fact is very different. The Task force was constituted with the selected members majority of whom are not directly linked/involved in cable Industry. Moreover, the key stake holder in Digitalization of Cable System i.e. Cable Operators have not been included into the said Task force except Smt. Roop Sharma from Delhi. So reviewing process which has been stated by the Ministry were never been in right direction as the Cable operators views were not taken and considered while executing the herculean task of Digitalization of cable tv system.
Separate meeting with cable operators were never held except a few meetings which were left inconclusive because of absence of officials from the Ministry.
The Committee was informed about the result of hasty and impractical digitisation as given below:- 
Encouraged Vertical Monopolies. The gainers are 4 to 5 big corporate giant media groups vertically and horizontally integrated with Broadcasters, their allied MSOs (Multisystem Operators) and DTH players who have increased their hold on the Indian Media.
Poor Quality STBs Forced on the Consumers.  Digitalisation cannot happen without STBs (Set Top Box). This STB is not manufactured in India. It is being imported from China and other countries in a hurry to meet the deadline of Phase I and II. This has resulting in millions of dollars going out of the country adversely impacting the economy of the Nation. 
These imported low cost STBs have old Technology (MPEG 2), no BIS Standards, No BEE Rating, No Interoperability, No quality certification, no electrical protection, use cheap SMPS components which pose dangerous Risk to General Public who is unaware of these facts. These STBs are Digital devices never designed to handle high voltages & current . There is no Guarantee/ Warranty card, repair center for these STBs etc. Consumer does not own STBs even after paying to LCO/MSO. STB also increases Electricity Bill. Picture quality is also poor due to pixelisatioin and picture freezing.
Security risk in Using Imported STBs. Bugging of STBs and ability to receive undesired signals may cause a serious security hazard.
Consumers to Pay More with no Choice of channels. Consumers are still being forced with channels in Bouquets, not given a-la-carte channels. Pay channels are full of lengthy irritating Advertisements & Paid news and do not comply with 10+2 minute ad caps laid down in Cable TV Rules. The low income group consumer who was paying Rs 50 to Rs 100 every month in Analog Regime has to now pay more than Rs 300 for his choice.
“Fundamental Right” of cable operators  has been snatched away
Cable operators who are declared as SSS& BE (Small Scale Service and Business Enterprise) and Registered in Post offices have been made slaves to large MSOs who control their business and decide their Revenue Share as per the new regulations.
Cable Operators give 24x7 service to consumers, spend money on building and upgrading Networks and collect & pay taxes to state govt. their Revenue Share has been drastically reduced. They are unable to survive with 45% of Rs 100 of BST making their business unviable. Cable Operators (LCO) are having 500 to 1000 subscribers base and are self employed earning their livelihood for more than 20 years.
Some suggestions given to the Committee by the operators included the following:-
Digitisation should be voluntary and not mandatory 
STB should be owned by the customer and not the MSO


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