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A month after digital switch-over, cable operators transmit analog signals in remote areas

LiveMint logoLiveMint 15-05-2017 Harveen Ahluwalia

New Delhi: Even after the official digital switch-over that happened on 31 March, cable operators across the country continue to transmit analog signals over their networks in remote and far-flung areas.

Industry executives estimate that over 30% of the total television households in Phase 3 and Phase 4 areas (estimated at 95 million by the government) are still using analog signals, instead of installing set-top boxes.

The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Act, 2011 had mandated a complete switch-over of the analog cable TV networks to digital addressable system (DAS) in four phases. Phase IV was officially completed on 31 March 2017.

Under Phase III, urban areas across 34 states and Union Territories, including Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Lakshadweep, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Bihar, have been covered, while Phase IV covers the entire rural India.

“Analog is very much alive. There have been a lot of complaints from areas like Punjab. The government is way off in its numbers while counting the rural households where set-top boxes have been seeded,” said Roop Sharma, president of the Cable Operators Federation of India.

The information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry in March had said that a total of 64.4 million set-top boxes (excluding Tamil Nadu) were seeded in Phase 3 and Phase 4 areas till 14 March, which accounted for 67.7% of the requirement. The estimates given by the ministry are based on the assumption that there are only 140 million television households (as per census 2011) in the country, Sharma explained.

However, the recent data (based on Broadcast India-2016 survey) by television viewership agency Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc) India shows that there are 183 million TV households across the country. “If we include all these figures for digitization, we land up with more than 50% TV sets yet to get a digital signal,” Sharma added.

Analog signals are currently being transmitted in Tamil Nadu where government-run Arasu Cable TV Corp., after a long legal battle, recently received a provisional DAS licence and is now in the process of digitization.

The primary reason behind the delay in analog switch-off, the executives said, is the lack of cable infrastructure in rural areas across the country. Additionally, cable distribution operators like direct-to-home platforms and multi-system operators (MSOs) are not allowed to share the infrastructure and have to maintain an independent set-up for distribution of satellite television services, according to current licencing conditions.

MSOs own and operate multiple cable TV systems. Currently, there are 700 MSOs and 60,000 cable operators in India.

“Problem is in the far flung areas where cable operators don’t have an infrastructure in place. This entire process would have been much easier, had the government allowed infrastructure sharing for cable distribution,” said Anil Malhotra, chief operating officer at Siti Networks Ltd, adding that the company has switched-off analog everywhere.

An executive at a leading broadcaster said that providing signals to the consumers in remote areas requires high investment and developing infrastructure individually increases the overall cost of cable operators.

“It is difficult to comply with the switch-over right now. Analog signals are cheaper for cable operators which is why they are not switching to digital. A lot of operators are also resorting to piracy of signals, by which they don’t have to share the revenues with broadcasters. We have been doing enough to ensure that our signals are only transmitted via digital,” the executive said.

Meanwhile, the I&B ministry has been issuing warnings to stop the use of analog signals across the country. The ministry had recently issued a notice to all state governments and stakeholders, asking them to take action against the defaulters.

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