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Cable unity on deadline duck

Cable television operators in Bengal came up with a “deferred” road map to digitisation on Thursday, saying they would petition Delhi to recognise the reality of multi-system operators being short of set-top boxes to meet the June 30 deadline.

“The MSOs tell the government that they have enough set-top boxes and that is the message that is percolating to the people. The truth is, we are unable to provide boxes to consumers who are ready to pay for them,” said Aloke Sharma, the general secretary of the Cable Operators’ Association of Bengal.

The announcement followed a meeting of over 700 members of the association, the majority of whom are franchisees of Siti Cable.

Most cable operators stand to lose from the switch to digitisation as the new regime would wipe out their earnings from undisclosed analogue connections.

Metro had highlighted on Monday how Calcutta was staring at a potential blackout in 30 lakh cable homes ahead of the Olympics that begin next month unless Delhi extended the deadline.

The recommended set-top boxes for digital cable are imported by the MSOs from China, South Korea and Taiwan. Their shortage has apparently triggered a price rise already. According to an operator, boxes were selling for Rs 800 each in most parts of the city, around Rs 300 more than the market price a few months ago.

“We have collected the signatures of 700 members on an appeal to the information and broadcasting ministry to push back the date, appoint a nodal officer of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India for the state to oversee the procurement of set-top boxes and fix the price,” the operator said.

Arunava Banerjee of the Association of Broadband and Cable TV Operators, which wasn’t part of Thursday’s meeting, said it wasn’t the neighbourhood cable operator’s fault that the price of set-top boxes was shooting up.

“Unfortunately, it is the cable operator who is getting the flak from the customer even though we have not increased the price,” said Banerjee, whose association comprises mostly franchisees of Manthan.

Siti Cable’s director Suresh Sethia said his company was “fine” with the idea of an official monitoring the availability of boxes but not about the government fixing the price. “If a company wants to sell boxes at prices lower than others, I don’t see why they should be stopped from doing so,” he said.

Sudip Ghosh, director of Manthan, said a regulator was welcome as long as it did not “slow down the process”.

THE BACKLOG

I&B: 80 per cent or 32 lakh
Cable operators & MSOs: 70 per cent or 28 lakh
What it means: Around 30 lakh boxes need to be delivered in next 16 days