The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) is confident of meeting the March, 2013 deadline for cable TV digitisation in 38 more cities across the country. The second phase of digitisation covers the one million plus cities across the country, including Pune, Nagpur, Nashik, Aurangabad and Thane, among others. The four metros – Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai – were part of the first phase of digitisation.
Secretary for Information and Broadcasting, Uday Kumar Varma said that the Ministry has been reviewing the progress on a continuous basis and nodal officers have been appointed in every state to oversee the conversion process.
“It has been estimated that 16 million set top boxes (STBs) would be required to digitise the 38 cities, excluding the four metros. But a study conducted by the Ministry has revealed that 6 million TV sets in these cities are already digitised,” Varma noted. He said that the cities like Ludhiana and Amritsar are already 90 per cent digital. The level of digitisation is high even in Bangalore and Hyderabad, he added.
Stating that the demand for STBs is huge, Varma said that at present, most of the STBs are being imported, and the share of the domestic manufacturers is negligible, mainly on account of cost advantage. He explained that while the imported STBs are offered as a service by the cable operator and are subjected to a lower rate of service tax, the domestic manufacturers’ STBs attract higher rate of VAT, as they are considered to be goods sold. He said that his Ministry has written to the Ministry of Finance to look into this anomaly and create a level playing field for domestic manufacturers. “If the domestic manufacturers are able to price their products competitively, the Ministry may even mandate a certain percentage of STBs to be procured domestically,” Varma added.
He expressed his satisfaction over the implementation of the first phase of digitisation and said that the exercise was more or less completely successful in Mumbai and Delhi. He further claimed that even Kolkata, which initially had reservations about digital conversion, has come on board with a conversion rate nearing 90 per cent. He, however, declined to comment on Chennai, saying that the matter is sub-judice.
Varma remarked that the first phase of digitisation was a learning experience and the government was working to refine the process. According to him, feedback from the newly converted digital homes has been mostly favourable and the move is bringing in a more transparent cable TV regime in the country.