It’s running on television tickers, playing on radio, staring at you from print and ringing alerts in your mobile phone’s inbox.
The countdown to the October 31 digitisation deadline for cable television has begun even as Calcutta struggles to be digital-enabled before the analogue screens go blank.
A section of service providers is hoping Delhi will postpone the deadline again so that they can continue to make money out of a business where under-declaring connections is the norm. The rest are busy selling digital set-top boxes at a premium by citing a shortage and/or misleading subscribers about the pricing of channels.
Metro tries to make sense of the chaos surrounding the analogue-to-digital switch.
How much should I be prepared to shell out for a set-top box with barely 20 days to go for the deadline?
The legitimate rate is Rs 799. The cable operator should not charge you more than Rs 50 to Rs 100 for installation. You can try bargaining. People have got boxes for around Rs 500 by threatening to shift to DTH (direct-to-home satellite feed).
How is the price of a box arrived at?
The MSOs (short for multi-system operators) buy the boxes from Korean and Chinese companies at Rs 1,500-odd but provide them to the cable operators cheaper. The idea is to retain subscribers, who would otherwise shift to DTH players like Tata Sky, Dish or Airtel Digital that apparently offer more features at a slightly higher price.
But some cable operators are overcharging their customers. The fleecing peaked in the middle of last June, just before Delhi decided to push back the deadline till October 31.
Should I postpone buying a box given the buzz about the deadline being pushed back again?
That would be a risk (some might say “a calculated one”). Sources in the industry say the deadline is likely to be postponed in Calcutta and Chennai because neither city is at the moment anywhere close to completing the switch with just over two weeks to go. It would be a good idea to buy the box without delay — there’s no escaping digitisation, by October 31 or a few months later — and feel safe in the knowledge that your TV won’t go blank, irrespective of Delhi’s decision.
Is the set-top box all I need to watch digital feed on my TV?
You also need to fill in a form provided to the cable operator by the MSO. The serial number on the form will be your ID in the MSO’s software, allowing you choose from different packages of paid channels you want to watch. Don’t pay for what you wouldn’t watch. Free-to-air channels will be common for every subscriber.
So why are the cable operators against digitisation?
As long as analogue signals run, cable operators benefit from under-declaring subscriptions. The MSOs don’t mind it because their real income is the carriage money that broadcasters pay, not a share of the subscriptions. The broadcasters are the losers in this game.
Do broadcasters stand to gain from digitisation?
Yes, they will know how many subscribers pay for their channels. They could get better ad rates, though the flip side is that they would need to pay more carriage money to the MSOs.
Where does the state government’s interest lie?
The state government is siding with the cable operators, citing possible law-and-order problems if analogue signals are withdrawn without many cable homes switching to digital.
How serious is the central government about enforcing the October 31 deadline?
Delhi has been firm about sticking to the deadline but the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) hasn’t yet pushed the process. Calcutta still doesn’t have a nodal officer of TRAI. The guidelines for digitisation sent to MSOs are far from comprehensive, say experts.
What would digitisation bring for the government?
A possible windfall of Rs 3,000 crore in taxes per annum for Delhi with the actual number of subscribers being revealed. In Bengal, Rs 200 crore could accrue to the exchequer.
Who else would gain from digitisation?
The DTH players, provided Delhi doesn’t budge on the digitisation deadline. They have a ready stock of various set-top boxes, trained personnel and infrastructure to provide connections at short notice. Some are already marketing their products aggressively at the moment.
What’s the fine print?
If you are one of those still watching all channels for around Rs 150 a month, brace for an increase in your cable bill or cut down on paid channels.