With roughly 70 days remaining for the Phase II digitisation deadline of March 31, 2013, there is a scramble to get the infrastructure and technology in place for the digital switchover in 38 cities.
Of these 38 cities, seven major cities fall in Uttar Pradesh – Lucknow, Varanasi, Agra, Allahabad, Kanpur, Meerut, and Ghaziabad.
The Government is confident of meeting the March 31 deadline. In a release issued on January 18, Secretary for Information and Broadcasting, Uday Kumar Varma had stated, “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 six million TV sets in these cities are already digitised.”
He further said that the Minister of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) has been reviewing the progress on a continuous basis and nodal officers have been appointed in every state to oversee the conversion process.
However, according to Local Cable Operators (LCOs) and Multi System Operators (MSOs) in Uttar Pradesh, the ground realities do not paint such an optimistic picture. A section of the LCOs and MSOs doubt whether the March 31 deadline would be met owning to some setbacks. Prominent among these is lack of awareness and a general apathy regarding digitisation amongst consumers. The LCOs and MSOs further state that there is a demand-supply gap for set top boxes (STBs); moreover, there is not enough manpower to undertake the seeding of STBs in the seven cities of Uttar Pradesh. It may be noted here that there are more than 700 registered cable operators in these seven cities.
Not everyone agrees to this, as is evident from the remark of SN Sharma, CEO, DEN Network, who maintained, “The digitisation process is going on very smoothly and we will be able to meet the set deadline.” It may be noted here that DEN Network is the largest cable operator in Uttar Pradesh.
On the other hand, Sisir Pillai, Chief Strategy Officer, DigiCable said, “Currently, the penetration of STBs is slow, but we are expecting it to pick up momentum soon. The only roadblock that I am seeing is that the market has not gone digital the way it should have. I feel it was easier to implement the Digital Addressable System (DAS) in the metros in Phase I.” DigiCable is present in four of the seven cities of UP where digitisation is currently underway, which include Allahabad, Lucknow, Kanpur and Agra. The company is planning to foray into Varanasi soon.
Pillai noted that the challenges for DAS Phase II are more as compared to Phase I. According to him, lack of quality technicians is hampering the work of installation of STBs. “Lack of awareness is also a culprit in the slow penetration. In a system like this, people should be trained first on what to do and how to take proceed forward.”
STB shortage continues
According to the MSOs, roughly 21 lakh more set top boxes are required in Lucknow, Varanasi, Agra, Allahabad, Kanpur, Meerut and Ghaziabad. They claimed that only around 20 per cent of the installation work has been done in these cities.
MSOs claim that Aligarh has seen around 15 per cent installation of STBs and more that 3.5 lakh boxes are yet to be installed. The shortfall in Lucknow is around 6-7 lakh, and only 20 per cent of the installation has been done, MSOs added.
Harvinder Singh Lord, owner City Cable, Kanpur, blamed the consumers to some extent for the slow progress of digitisation. He observed, “It is the tendency of Indian consumers to set things aside till the last moment. Apart from this, consumers are not realising the seriousness of the process and are procrastinating. If things continue like this, we might have to seek six months extension in the digitisation deadline.”
According to Alok Parekh, a Varanasi-based cable operator, and Niraj Jain of Allahabad-based Sea Cable, the STB penetration, though going on at a slow rate, is proceeding smoothly. In light of the slow rate of progress, they feel that the March 31 deadline will not be enough and will have to be postponed.
Meanwhile, the Government is running promotional campaigns on television to create awareness amongst the people about Phase II of digitisation.