Brace for blackout

Published: Oct 31, 2012, 08:29 IST | Hemal Ashar and Asha Mahadevan |

As the deadline for digitisation expires today, October 31, some residents are living with the prospect of blank television screens, if they do not digitise. All you wanted to know about digitisation and deadlines

What is digitisation?
It is a shift in technology. Your local cable person beams content to your television sets without a Set Top Box by using analog technology. Those who beam with a Set Top Box use digital technology. The reception is clearer when digital technology is used. 

According to the amendment the government made in section 9 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Ordinance, 1995, every operator, whether it is a local cable guy or bigger companies, has to beam content only by using digital technology. Converting from analog to digital technology is called ‘digitisation’.

Deadlines and Datelines
In December 2011, Parliament passed a Bill that made it compulsory for cable television to be digitised, and to start the process with the metros. The earlier deadline for Phase 1 (Mumbai and other metros) was July 1, 2012 but the government extended it to November 1 after talks with activists and cable operators.

PHASE I: Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai WILL NOT receive analog signals from November 1, 2012.

The same will be applicable to cities with more than one million population from April 1, 2013.

Other urban areas: from October 1, 2014.

The country: from January 1, 2015.

Cable vs Digital
The cable operators have been transmitting TV channels in analog signal mode, which people say, may be hazy. In a digital signal, receptivity is clearer and all channels have the same reception quality. A few cable operators have begun to provide digital signals, but the huge cost involved in digitisation is making many operators wary of taking it on.

What does DTH mean?
DTH means, Direct to Home Service. Through this service, the recipient will receive signals directly from the satellite on his Set Top Box. HD or High Definition channel is one of the major advantages for a DTH Service subscriber.

Purse Pinch
Cost of installation of a set top box varies from operator to operator, but on an average, is between R1,000–1,500. Depending on the area where you live, the operator you choose and the number of channels you wish to watch, the monthly fee can be anything from R250 and above.

Help at hand
The Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry has set up a control room with a toll-free telephone number to help the public as they make the transition from cable to set top box technology. Call 18001804343 between 8 am and 10pm, seven days of the week.

No Set Top Box Yet?
When MiD DAY called the helpline, the telephone operator said, “You have to get a set top box to be able to watch television from November 1. Without a set top box, no channel, not even Doordarshan, will be available. You can get a set top box through your cable operator. He will install it and give you a remote control to go with it. There is no other alternative.”

Give us time
Advocate Anil Parab, president of the Cable Operators’ Association, thinks that this time, the government is going to stick to its guns about today’s deadline. “I do not think the government will give more time, this time around. They have got some personal interest in mind and there is tremendous pressure from broadcasters. We are not opposing digitisation. It is only that people need more time. In one day, a set top box operator can install about 20 boxes. It is not easy. In March this year, about 35 per cent of households in Mumbai had set top boxes. In October, it was about 70 per cent. Now, we need at least three months more to make that 100 per cent. Then, it is also expensive and there is no set revenue model for operators. We have sent requests to authorities for more time, but there has been no response. Like I said earlier, there is tremendous pressure from the broadcasters.”

Inside View
Former corporator and now distributor for InCable Net, Pramod Mandrekar said, “This deadline is a good thing, especially as it will make people toe the line. In fact, there is widespread digitisation in South Mumbai, I would say nearly everybody here is digitised. This is hi-fi area, and people keep in touch with new trends and advances. Even in television watching, first we had Plasma, then came LCD then LED and now HD television, so the world is evolving and so is entertainment, one has to keep up with the times. Just a minuscule percent may not have digitisation in SoBo, but I would say it is the typical Indian mentality, wait till the last minute, or till blackout to get something. Yet, I say this is a good move and it is wise to adhere to it.”

Percentage of the digitisation process in the city that is complete, according to an I&B Ministry statement

We did discuss about getting a set top box but then we decided there was no need. All the shows we watch are available online. I can watch them without advertisements and even watch two episodes in the time one episode airs on TV. In my house, my mom watches a few shows, but she is net savvy so she can watch them on the computer. We are paying for Internet anyway, so there is no point in getting a set
top box.
Royston Kinny, Worli

I haven’t got a set top box yet. I don’t think it (the rule) will get implemented. Our cablewallah has not told us to sign up for a set top box. This debate about set top box has been going on for four to five years now. I think it will take another 10 years at least for it to be implemented in Mumbai. If it does get implemented, then we will opt for a private direct-to-TV operator instead of a set top box from the cablewallah.
Viral Shah, Mulund

I haven’t got a set top box yet because the cablewallah said that the October 31 deadline is only for those in Mumbai and we are outside city limits. The current system is definitely better. In the set top box, channels are limited. I am now getting more than 100 channels for just R300
per month.
Tanzil Thakur, Mumbra

I just got a set top box a week ago. I was aware of the deadline and decided to get one as I did not want to risk a blackout. I have to admit that television viewing is much, much better. Yet, I cannot help but think there is some hidden agenda by the government for this. Suddenly, like all the inflation we are facing, these expenses too are going to jump.”
Crompton Texeira, Kalina

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