The recent order by the Delhi High Court favouring complete digitisation by December 31, 2016 has been welcomed by broadcasters. However, there is an element of concern on the practicality of the implementation given the short deadline and the unavailability of set-top boxes in many places.
It must be mentioned that the date for implementation of DAS Phase III was earlier set for September 30, 2014 and was later extended to December 31, 2015 by a notification issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB).
One of the main reasons for the delay was the nationwide litigations that were filed against the implementation order. A total of 62 cases had been filed in different courts and 29 cases had been transferred by various courts to Delhi. Of the 62 cases, 12 had been disposed off by respective courts and three cases had been withdrawn by the petitioners. It took a lot of groundwork for the Indian Broadcasting Federation to challenge the litigations which finally culminated in the latest directive issued by the Delhi High Court.
Soon after the Delhi High Court verdict, the IBF President, Punit Goenka said, “We welcome all stakeholders into the dawn of a new era and hope that the digitization bandwagon continues unabated in Phase IV as well, which is to be implemented from January 1, 2017.”
However, M. K Anand, MD & CEO, Times Network expressed his reservation about the implementation of the Delhi High Court order. Speaking to exchange4media, he said, “The deadline seems practically impossible and I don’t know how the order will get implemented in this short period of time.”
Terming the announcement historic, Kartikeya Sharma, Founder and Promoter, ITV Network said, “This is a welcome move and it will go a long way in establishing a level playing field. The implementation of DAS has been a long pending demand from the broadcasters and it is heartening to see this finally happening. It will definitely bring in more transparency in the system and will eventually benefit all the stakeholders.”
Echoing similar views, Anurradha Prasad, Editor-in-Chief News 24 commented, “Though it is a court order but at the same time we cannot ignore the ground reality, especially in the rural areas. I believe that the MSOs were prepared for this kind of an announcement, however, it will be interesting to watch how the implementation process will shape up in this stipulated time.”
Interestingly, prior to this judgement Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting (MIB) Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore had stated that the full switchover of the country to digital addressable system (DAS) regime might be delayed beyond December 31 due to court cases.
“As per Cable TV Rule, the cut-off date for complete digitisation is December 31, 2016. As such, all cable subscribers in the country should take STBs (set-top boxes) before this date to continue to avail cable TV services. However, due to pending court cases the implementation may be delayed,” Rathore had stated.
Those who oppose the verdict state that there is a huge gap between availability of set-top boxes and the households to be connected. To quote the figures of MIB, a total of 1.98 crore set-top boxes have been seeded in Phase IV until 26 October, which takes the total STB seeding in all four phases to 9.24 crore. However, the last and final phase of DAS covers 61.08 million TV rural households spanning 28 states and six Union Territories, as per data provided by the MIB based on 2011 Census report.
“I think it will be very difficult for the cable operators to stick to this deadline as there are issues related to STB availability. The best approach would be to extend the implementation deadline till March 2017,” stated R K Arora, Strategic Partner, JK Media Network.