Even as the deadline for DAS implementation in Phase III and IV areas nears, most MSOs and broadcasters are yet to sign interconnect agreements, which is impacting the actual seeding of set-top boxes in these areas
BestMediaInfo Bureau | Mumbai | October 21, 2015
The 11th Task Force meeting, chaired by Special Secretary Jitendra Shankar Mathu, on DAS implementation in Phase III and Phase IV areas was held on September 22, 2015.
The biggest point of concern raised at the meeting was that only 62 MSOs had so far made requests to broadcasters for interconnect agreements, as per data received from broadcasters by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). With the deadline for DAS implementation nearing, the slow progress in signing of interconnect agreements threatens to disrupt the DAS process.
The chairperson made it clear to all parties that without signing the interconnect agreements, DAS implementation was not possible. He asked the representatives of broadcasters and MSOs to update the Task Force about the number of agreements signed so far.
The representative of Indian Broadcasters Foundation (IBF) said at the meeting that not much progress had been made in signing of the agreements with major MSOs as the latter were waiting for the decision in a court case before TDSAT. However, broadcasters have signed provisional agreements with many applicant operators who have digitised their networks, under the condition that they will get registered as MSOs for DAS operation before the cut-off date for Phase III. He added that broadcasters were ready to extend the existing analogue interconnect agreements with MSOs for transition from analogue to digital service.
The representative of Siticable mentioned that broadcasters had not responded to their requests for interconnect agreements for Phase III areas so far and added that without the agreements they would not be able to fix the channel package rates and get the SAF (Subscriber Acquisition Form) and CAF (Customer Acquisition Form) forms filled up by the subscribers as required under DAS regulations. He questioned the propriety of running of digital cable service by cable operators without first getting registered from the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) as per the DAS regulations.
TRAI’s representative pointed out that it was up to the broadcasters and MSOs to continue existing interconnect agreements even after transition from analogue to digital. He added that there was no impropriety in running the digital service by an operator before the cut-off date without registration from the MlB.
Meanwhile, representative of IndusInd Media and Communication Ltd (IMCL) informed that they had signed 60 per cent of the agreements with broadcasters in Phase III areas. Regarding interconnect agreements with other broadcasters, they requested TRAI to intervene in the matter.
Representative of Maharashtra Cable Operators Foundation (MCOF) mentioned that MSOs were not signing interconnect agreements with LCOs and asked TRAI to intervene and prescribe a standard interconnect agreement.
The Cable Operators Association from Assam mentioned that since no agreements were taking place in the state despite requests from MSOs, broadcasters should nominate a nodal officer to deal with the issue at the regional level.
Joint Secretary R Jaya mentioned here that registration of MSOs by the MIB was open. In case broadcasters have entered into agreements with non-registered operators, they should ensure that they have applied for MSO registration with the Ministry. The Joint Secretary advised broadcasters to impress upon these operators to immediately register themselves as MSOs with the MIB, failing which they would not be able to operate digital services.
The chairperson asked the TRAI representative to share the data from broadcasters on MSOs operating in Phase III areas with the Ministry to find out the MSO-dark areas in the country. He also asked the TRAI representative to have another meeting with broadcasters and MSOs to stress upon them to sign the interconnect agreements. It was decided that IBF would submit an area wise list indicating the status of signing of agreements to the Ministry.
Meanwhile, on the issue of indigenous set-top boxes, Mohit Verma, representative of CEAMA (Consumer Electronics and Appliances Manufacturers Association) mentioned that except for smaller orders for set-top boxes from independent MSOs/LCOs, they were still awaiting orders from major MSOs. Shaji Mathews, representative of GTPL, requested CEAMA representative to send them an offer with the price list for various CAS versions.
Mathews also raised the issue of sealing of MSOs’ headends by the state entertainment tax department in Pune. He stated that the state government had sealed the headends on the issue of entertainment tax, which was sub-judice. He added that it was difficult to operate in such an environment.
Much of the initial part of the meeting was spent on DAS awareness programmes, wherein Joint Secretary R Jaya informed that as the next step towards the publicity awareness campaign, broadcasters and MSOs should now inform the cable TV users in Phase I areas through scroll messages on their channels to get set-top boxes installed in their homes before the cut-off date of December 31, 2015.
Concluding the meeting, the chairperson summarised that while there had been progress in generating momentum through publicity awareness campaigns and the ongoing regional workshops being conducted by the MIB, the interconnect agreements between broadcasters and MSOs were taking time, which was impacting the actual seeding of set-top boxes. He called upon broadcasters and MSOs to seal the interconnect agreements without further delay, and added that TRAI should act as the arbiter in case of any disagreements. He further said that the publicity awareness campaigns by stakeholders for Phase III digitisation needed to be intensified as the cut-off date approached. He also requested all broadcasters to enhance the frequency of telecast of spots informing people about digitisation as the message needed to percolate to all levels of the society.