September was easily the most eventful month of 2014. The I&B ministry issued its notification delaying DAS Phase-3 by 1 year and DAS Phase-4 by 2 years. However, it was unusual that the government first preferred to break the news informally .......
DAS PHASES III & IV RESCHEDULED
The I&B ministry under the UPA government bulldozed the compulsory transition to Digital CATV in DAS Phases 1 & 2. These were all urban areas with reasonable infrastructure and population densities that could support Cable TV digitisation. MSO in these areas were keen to virtually acquire the Last Mile Owner's subscribers under the garb of digitisation, and readily seeded digital STBs at subsidised prices. This enabled DAS Phase I & II digitisation within the specified time frames.
Most of the DAS Phase1 & 2 MSOs have been disappointed with the lack of enhanced revenues that were projected under DAS. Even consumers continue to be offered an allinclusive bouquet, leaving little option to pick and pay for select channels, even though such an option is compulsory on paper. In fact, several Large MSO has now shifted their focus and finances away from digitisation, and prefer to deploy their resources for Internet delivery, particularly high speed internet (50 MBps) using DOCSIS-3 Cable Modems.
More than 50% of India resides in semi-urban and rural areas which are to be covered under DAS Phases III & IV. Many of these areas lack even basic infrastructure & electric power supply. Homes in villages are often serviced by small entrepreneurs who have set up tiny Cable TV networks catering to less than 50 homes, with each home often paying Rs. 100 or less for a month's Cable TV.
The UPA government had called on all Cable TV homes in the country, including those in the remotes villages to shut off analog transmissions, by 31st December 2014. Many felt this imposition was not only unfair but impossible to implement.
In its haste to transition to Digital Cable TV the government had not enabled the required infrastructure. Indigenous STB manufacturers were not incentivised.
New compulsory BIS specifications were introduced mid-stream in the implementation process. Testing and obtaining a conformance certificate for the digital STBs was itself a long process with lengthy lead times as the ERTLs (Govt. Test laboratories) were not geared up to test the large number of STBs.
Soon after assuming office, the new I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar expressed his misgivings about how digitisation was being pushed through, at the exclusion of the local industry.
He declared that the digitisation schedule needs to be re-looked so that indigenous STB manufacturers have the opportunity to gear up their products and production to meet the country's STB requirements.
Estimates are that between 60 Million to 100 Million Digital STBs will be required for DAS Phases III & IV. These digital STBs alone would be worth Rs. 10,000 Crores.
On 25th August 2014, I&B Secretary Mr. Bimal Julka reportedly told a website that DAS Phases 3 & 4 would be postponed by a year to end 2015.
For weeks, the government and the I&B minister made no further statement, neither confirming nor denying the report.
On 10th September, speaking at the Indian Broadcasting Foundation's (IBF) annual general meeting, Javadekar said "Digitisation is on track and will happen as per new schedule."
The move to delay DAS was staunchly and publically opposed by the TRAI Chairman - Khullar, who put forward various arguments to the press on the negative consequences of delaying DAS. (Not all of them held water, including the statement that delaying DAS will delay broadband roll out)
As the furor reached fever pitch, on 17th September 2014, the I&B ministry put out its notification.
The DAS notification has been issued by way of amendment to the notification issued on 11 November 2011 which had made it "obligatory for every cable operator to transmit or re-transmit programmes of any channel in encrypted form through digital addressable system."
The notification says that the change has been done 'on being satisfied to do so in public interest'.
Prior to the notification, DAS Phases 3 & 4 were to be compulsorily implemented by switching off all analog cable TV transmissions, countrywide by midnight of 31st December 2014. According to the revised DAS notification:
♣ The DAS Phase III deadline is now 31st December 2015 DAS Phase III covers "All other urban areas (Municipal Corporations / municipalities) except cities/towns/areas specified for the corresponding Phase-I and Phase-II".
♣ The DAS Phase IV deadline is now 31st December 2016 DAS Phase IV covers "Rest Of India."
The news was greeted with much cheer by the smaller MSOs and Last Mile Owners. Most national level MSOs do not have significant plans to address the DAS III & IV markets, and hence they are generally not perturbed.
The I&B Minister announced that the phase III of digitisation is likely to begin from April 2015 and will end the same year in December. "And phase IV will commence as soon as the phase III is completed," Javadekar said.
On the other hand, indigenous STB manufacturers now have an opportunity to address this huge market for sale of well over 50 million digital STBs. Given the fact that these STBs may require EPG and middleware in regional languages, and purchase lots will be small. TRAI Chairman - Khullar has said that local STB manufacturers ramping up to meet the demand will remain a 'pipe dream.' It's up to the local STB manufacturers to prove him wrong. n