Get set-top boxes before it’s too late
KOLKATA: If you have not opted for a set top box (STB) till now, contact your local cable operator at the earliest . Or else, be prepared to stare at a blank television screen.
Once cable transmission mandatorily switches from analog to digital platform five months from now, TV sets without STBs will go blank. Once that happens, all hell will break lose in millions of homes as the daily doze of entertainment will disappear from lives of the citizens.
If the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) sticks to the Ordinance on Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, the switch from analog to digital transmission will have to be completed in Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, by June 30, 2012. From the next day, only digital transmission will be beamed to cities.
"It isn't just pay channels that will disappear after the digitization deadline. People will not be able to tune into free-to-air (FTA) channels either. STBs will become compulsory for viewing any cable channel ," said DigiCable vice-president Amit Nag.
With just over five months to go and no urgency visible yet, there are serious doubts over whether the new system could be effectively rolled out in so many households. As state minister Madan Mitra pointed out, "If the cable TV switches off for even five minutes, it feels as though life has gone out of our lives. We get disconnected from the world."
Though multi-system operators (MSOs) like DigiCable, SitiCable, Manthan, GTPL-KCBP , Den, AMBC, Howrah Cineline, DigiCable and Kailash Cable expect TRAI to extend the deadline by at least two months, they acknowledge the roll-out logisitcs will pose an immense challenge.
"MSOs have to seed STBs in nearly 27 lakh homes through cable operators. That is a herculean task. We have to begin pushing STBs aggressively mid-next month. Viewers, too, need to come forward and embrace the technology. While demand for STBs will peak as the deadline approaches, unless it is spread over the next four months, there will be utter chaos thereafter," warned SitiCable director Suresh Sethia.
The entire Kolkata Metropolitan Area (KMA) - Kalyani in the east to Maheshtala in the west, and Bally in the north to Barasat in the south - will come under the digitization ambit. According to industry estimates, there are 33 million television homes in KMA, of which 2.8 lakh subscribe direct-to-home (DTH) while 3 lakh have STBs from cable operators.
Of the latter, 2.7 lakh homes are in Alipore, New Alipore, Behala and other areas west of Tolly's Nullah where conditional access system (CAS) was rolled out in 2007 before implementation in rest of the city was put in the back burner following political opposition. It was perceived that the move would not only adversely affect cable operators, but also push cable TV beyond the reach of millions living in slums.
The digitization attempt was again revived on December 13, 2011, when a bill was passed in the Lok Sabha with the government assuring that it will not harm operators or subscribers.
"Digitization will allow viewers to watch and pay for only those channel they wish to see," information & broadcasting minister Ambika Soni had said after introducing the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Second Amendment Bill.
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