Thursday, 10 September 2015

'Mann Ki Baat ' On Digitisation

It is surprising that mandatory digitisation that touches 160 million TV households or 800 million people in the country has not come under PM's scrutiny.
In the Independence Day speech and in ‘Mann ki Baat’ our PM talks of helping the poor, uplifting the economically weaker section, providing them opportunities for employment etc. and even making them a member of ‘TEAM INDIA’. In fact most of the government schemes like Jan Dhan Yojana and Jeevan Suraksha are aimed at including the millions of poor in the main fold of the country. It is surprising that mandatory digitization that touches 160 million TV households in the country has not come under PM’s scrutiny so far. 
The very fact that 70% of the country’s population coming under a government scheme that forces them to spend Rs 1000 to 2000 for a set-top-box and pay 2 to 3 times more than existing analog service is something just not acceptable in a democratic country like India. Firstly, we don’t have the infrastructure and financial resources to carry out such  a massive task to be completed within two years as stipulated in the main scheme and even in another two years extension that has been granted by the present government, and secondly it is unfair to expect 220 million households to accept such a scheme that benefits a few large international ‘Pay’ Broadcasters and fills only government coffers so that it can give them back, part of the booty in the form of subsidies through various schemes to gem popularity, part of which will go to some corrupt bureaucrats and politicians.
The bureaucrats who drafted the Digitisation policy have no clue of the ground realities and went completely by the directions given to them by some international broadcast groups. It is also worth noting that the regulator, ex TRAI chairman Late J.S. Sarma had declared publicly in March 2012 during the FICCI Frames that the stakeholders have told him that they would finish the task within less than 2 years time. Where are those stake holders today?
One wonders why the government is not taking any action against these stakeholders and the bureaucrats who drafted the policy for misleading and cheating the people of India for their personal gains and vested interest as all the policies have failed to achieve their objective and on the other hand, pushed the industry in to a terrible situation of uncertainty and chaos. 
Mandatory Digitisation Thrust upon Private Industry and poor people
As more than four years have passed when mandatory Digitisation was thrust upon the people of India through an Ordinance, nothing has been achieved for the consumers as declared in the policy. The only gainers are the broadcasters who were involved in the policy making process and their associated MSOs and DTH operators.  This needs to be investigated as in the present process, we will not achieve a total  analogue switch off in a smooth manner, taking along all the existing subscribers even in the next ten years.
Taking example of other countries who have switched off analogue or in the process of doing so, it takes 6 to 12 years to do the task in a smooth manner that too on the government owned terrestrial  television systems only and not in a privately owned industry. After all, it involves persuading millions of people to adopt the new technology and also helping the poor to do the same using subsidies worth billions of dollars like the Modi Government is doing for other schemes. 
Failure of Terrestrial Digitisation lead to forcing it on Private Industry
Unfortunately in India, the digitalization of the terrestrial networks of Doordarshan that started in 2003 is still in a trial stage due to the lackadaisical approach of bureaucracy and the corrupt practices of the government agencies. To get rid of its own responsibility, the government designed a policy that would force an unorganized private industry, comprising of thousands of cable operators to hand over their networks to large corporate in the hope that they would finish the task in the given time, inviting lot of foreign funding and artificially taking up the economic growth, irrespective of the fact that lakhs of people earning their living for the past 25 years running cable networks would lose their livelihood. 
First, the government wasted time and money in carrying out trials on DVB -T standard for years and when that technology became obsolete, Prasar Bharati called for bids for the new DVB-T2 technology, the trials for which are now going on. If we had digitised the 1400 TV transmitters in the country,  90% of the country would have been receiving digital TV and cable TV would have invested in Broadband networking, boosting up the economy in a real way. DTT on terrestrial Doordarshan Networks would have also encouraged thousands of small regional broadcasters, who find it difficult to compete with large international networks, to come up on the regional DTT networks employing lakhs of persons in local content production and government would have earned a lot of revenue from the annual license fee as well as from auction of these digital terrestrial frequencies. 

Skilling India
The mandatory digitisation policy framed to complete the process within a short span of time with the conditions so difficult that small entrepreneur  would never be able to survive in the business, has brought in the large companies in the distribution sector. The process is slowly edging out small network operators out of the market, increasing the monopoly of large pay broadcaster groups. Because of these policies, it is the smaller entrepreneurs, broadcasters and Doordarshan, who will be the biggest losers. 
Since the last mile connectivity till date is in the hands of these small and independent Cable Operators, the large ones are putting all their efforts in taking them over by force and by using unethical means, causing a chaotic situation on the ground. Ministry and regulation are only mute spectators.
Fallout of this policy is that lakhs of Skilled Workers of these Cable TV networks, particularly in the rural and semi-urban areas will be left unemployed as in spite of their having years of experience in the field in managing these Cable TV networks, they will not be retained by large companies who prefer well educated and trained manpower. At present, there is no training establishment for the broadcast and Cable TV technologies, thus it may take a very long time for the new educated employees to learn the tricks of the trade.

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