While drafting the amendment to Cable TV Act for mandating digitization, Ministry had ensured that all state governments provide a legal Right of Way (RoW) to cable operators and the MSOs. However while implementing DAS, the Ministry failed to ensure that all state governments do the needful by making proper legislation to allow cable operators and MSOs to use state infrastructure like the underground ducts and electric poles to sling their cables all across the cities. The result is very few states have brought in such regulation. Also, those who introduced the provision has taken it as an opportunity to exploit the MSOs to make money rather than facilitate an infrastructure that would help the state government in many ways like e-governance, flood and natural calamity warnings or promoting people friendly schemes.
Bangalore MSOs to pay 300 Crores
Last month, MSOs and ISPs in the Bangalore had a shock when they were told to cough up Rs 300 crores as Right of Way charges for the next 15 years to the Municipal Corporation for the 15000 Km of underground cables they have laid in the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) area. Bangalore city has around 1,200 cable operators and around nine multisystem operators (MSO) in the city — Hathway, In cable, Atria, Citi Cable, Amogha, Den Network, U telecom, Ice-1, Ice-2 and Kalyan TV. Of these MSOs, some use underground and some others surface cabling. These MSOs provide a single point from their headends to the respective cable operator and from there the signals are sent to the cable TV subscriber on co-axial/ fiber optic cables. Municipality has removed all overhead cables and permitted only underground cables to the MSOs at the rate of Rs 200 per meter for upto three ducts. In addition, MSOs and ISPs will have to pay Rs 100 per meter for every additional duct they use. Local cable operators (LCOs) have been exempted from paying a fee for laying cables. Obviously this additional payment will have to be passed on to subscribers which is a cause of worry as already digitization has increased the monthly billing of consumers and they have to pay for each TV set in the household.
Electric pole charges demanded from MSO/operators in Assam
In Assam, the Gauhati High Court has disposed of the writ petition filed by the Greater Guwahati Cable TV Operators Association (GGCTOA) and has also set aside the Assam Power Distribution Company Limited’s (APDCL) 17 December decision to reject GGCTOA’s representation without providing relevant reasons.
The HC has put the ball back in the APDCL’s court by directing it to relook at the representation and take a fresh decision after hearing all the parties. While asking the APDCL authority to dispose of the matter before 28 February, the HC asked the GGCTOA to pay Rs. 10 per pole as charges in the interim till a final decision is taken by the authority. The GGCTOA, which represents the local cable operators (LCOs) in Guwahati, had made a representation before the APDCL to roll back its notice dated 25 September wherein it had hiked the charges for utilise of electric poles to Rs. 25 from Rs. 10. The association’s contention was that the increase in charges not only puts unnecessary burden on LCOs but is also in contravention of the Cable TV Network Regulation Act which gives Right of Way to the LCOs to utilise public property for the purpose of providing cable TV services. The GGCTOA had argued that under the Right of way no charges should be levied against the LCOs for using electricity poles.
“Considering the matter in its entirety and in view of the fact that the impugned communication dated 17.12.2013 is not informed of any reason the writ petition is disposed of by setting aside the said communication dated 17.12.2013 remanding the matter back to the APDCL authority for a fresh decision in the matter considering all the points urged in the representation dated 22 October and the points that the petitioner might consider afresh,” the HC said in its order. “It will be appropriate for the authority of the APDCL to dispose of the said representation upon hearing the parties involved or their representative by a speaking order and disclosing the decision for the same.”
“Let the required exercise be carried out as expeditiously as possible preferably within 28.02.2014, subject, however, to the condition that the petitioner shall pay a charge of Rs. 10 per pole for a period of one month till 28.02.2014,” the HC stated. The HC also said that in case the APDCL rules in favour of the GGCTOA, the Rs. 10 charge that the LCOs will pay in the interim will be adjusted with future charge, if any, or refunded. In the event, the APDCL decides against the GGCTOA, the latter can pursue legal remedy and all the points raised in the writ petition and urged before the court will remain open for adjudication. “Our negotiation with APDCL as per order of Court for amicable settlement will cover this issue as prime agenda,” GGCTOA general secretary Mohammed Iquebal Ahmed said. An emergency executive meeting of Greater Guwahati Cable TV Operators Association was held on 22-2-14 at Guwahati to discuss the crisis arising out of the Bill of pole utilization charge served by APDCL to GGCTOA. The Bill has been generated against GGCTOA from 5 circles of Guwahati APDCL amounting to 33,000 poles approximately with due date fixed on 26-2-14. The bill fails to specify the exact operator using the pole which is putting GGCTOA in an awkward situation to make payment of pole charges as per order of Hon'ble Gauhati High Court. The next hearing date is on 28-2-14, & non payment of bills by GGCTOA shall amount to contempt of court. GGCTOA conveyed to APDCL this problem vide letter dated 14-2-14 & requested for operator wise break up of poles which till today has not been answered.
GGCTOA suspects deep rooted conspiracy by vested interest to hamper Cable business since there are other competitors who are basically corporate or multinationals entering the industry recently in wake of Central Government guideline for digitization. If the State Govt fails to come up with proper policies for streamlining the operations of Cable industry, which is being built by local educated unemployed youths, will be snatched by corporate or multinationals from outside Assam. The lackadaisical attitude of the State Govt has created a severe threat to the cable industry, endangering the livelihood of more than 40,000 youths employed in this industry across Assam. The meeting considering the urgency of the situation arising out of date finalized on 26-2-14 for APDCL Bill & indifferent attitude of APDCL has resolved to conduct protest through Cable Black Out.
The other problems & demands of GGCTOA are-
1. APDCL must immediately withdraw all notices served to cable operators across Assam for removing cables citing security reasons as the matter is in court already.
2. APDCL must give extension of due date of bill served with operator wise break up of poles utilized or charge a nominal figure of not more than 1000 poles from GGCTOA until & unless proper survey or assessment is done.
3. APDCL must settle the pole charge at Rs 10- per pole for Guwahati & with considerable discount for areas outside Guwahati.
4. State Govt must form a task force with operators ( MSO/LMO) for smooth digitization process of cable in Assam.
5. Last but not the least, as per provisions of Cable TV Act, State Govt must form strong monitoring committee to safeguard the interest of local youths engaged as operators & also consumer rights. But State Government seems to be satisfied with imposition of taxes in various forms only, without any policy or guideline for streamlining the industry which has also been recommended in Cable TV Act 2005. Cable operators decided to black out their signals on 22 February. However, on 22-2-14, after the news on TV channels regarding Black out, at about 9 pm, Power & Industry Minister of Assam - Mr Pradyut Bordoloi conveyed over phone to Gen Secy-GGCTOA regarding settlement of the issues. The Minister assured of extension of due date & addressing issues related with APDCL & Industry Department.
The situation is grave in the industry. On one hand the Regulator TRAI is putting pressure on cable operators and MSOs to hurry up with CAF forms and otherwise blackout the signals to the customers and on the other the State Governments are creating enough hurdles in implementation demanding huge money from the MSOs and operators even before they start getting any benefit from Digitization.