Come April 1, over 20 lakh households in the twin cities may not be able to watch TV. Well, not even Doordarshan.
For, March 31 is the deadline set by the Centre for Cable TV viewers to shift to Digital Addressable System (DAS) after procuring Set Top Boxes (STB). The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s data claims that four cities, Hyderabad, Amritsar, Chandigarh and Allahabad, have achieved nearly 100 per cent digitisation. But the ground reality in Hyderabad is a little different.
According to L Hari Goud, president, Cable TV Operators’ Welfare Association (Greater Hyderabad and Rangareddy), there is no official data available with the State government about the number of Cable TV operators in the city, leave alone users or the status of digitisation process. The big question is can they meet the deadline? “There is 100% shortage of STBs in the city following the closure of some industrial units in China for the last few weeks due to some festival,” he replied.
Currently, all the STBs are being imported from China. Echoing similar views, an operator at Guru Communications, said, “There is no stock of boxes with us. Customers have been calling and putting pressure on us and we have no answers.” What is this festival in China that according to these people is dragging on for weeks? They have no idea.
In the highly unorganised Cable TV industry, the move towards digitisation has left operators and users confused. Goud said, “There should be around 30 lakh Cable TV users in the city and only about 7 lakh have currently switched over to DAS.” Some people are switching over to Direct-To-Home (DTH) services, which seems a better option under the circumstances.
Another operator, Kumar from Sai Cable Network, said, “In the last 20 days, I have already lost 30-40 customers to DTH services which give attractive offers and packages.” STBs are also available in the open market at Koti and Shivaji Nagar at lesser prices. “Customers can buy from anywhere but we cannot give guarantee or service if boxes are bought from local markets,” added Kumar.
Claiming that there is no clarity in the call for digitisation, (which is why the association has moved the high court seeking extension of the deadline), Goud said, “After digitisation, customers are supposed to pay for only the channels they want to watch. There is no uniformity in costs or services. Mutliple System Operators (MSOs) are forcing customers to subscribe to all channels instead of giving pay and watch packages.” Currently, there are four MSOs namely, Hathway, Sitivision, Digicable and CTV, operating in the city. A Set Top Box with CTV costs about Rs 1,500, Digicable about Rs 1,300 whereas Hathway and Sitivision charge about Rs 1200 and Rs 1,000 respectively.
Since the current phase of digitisation covers only Hyderabad and Vizag, customers especially tenants are worried about the ownership of STBs. “The STB would be a total waste of money if I am transferred to another city or a small town without the particular MSO’s operations,” pointed out Sai Prasanth, a software professional. For people like him, DTH seems a better option. On this particular question, Goud explained, “That is why we have sought six months’ time to educate the consumers and bring clarity in the whole system.”
The issue is in court and the next hearing is on April 1, he said. In Gujarat, the high court has stayed the notification for compulsory digitisation and extended the deadline to April 8.