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State in MSO defence, again

The state government has again jumped to the defence of multi-system operators, promising to shoot off another letter to Delhi urging it not to enforce the December 27 deadline for switchover from analogue to digital TV signals.

The information and broadcasting ministry had on Thursday made city MSOs sign an undertaking to switch off analogue signals in a phased manner and complete the process by December 27 — the third deadline for the city after June 30 and October 31.

MSO representatives said urban development minister Firhad Hakim had assured them at a meeting at Writers’ on Monday that the Bengal government would approach Delhi for a third time to defer the deadline.

“It is unfortunate that the MSOs are being made to enforce digitisation. They should have come to Calcutta and run a reality check. Arm-twisting measures are not going to help,” Hakim said after the meeting.

“A decision can only be reached after discussion. We will not accept the deadline. If there is any threat to law and order, the Centre will be nowhere to deal with it. Talks must be held at the secretary-level.”

Metro had reported that the MSOs, most of whom are ill-prepared for the switch, would bank on chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Hakim to bail them out like the previous two occasions.

“We had signed documents promising to switch off analogue signals in a fortnight but it was going to be difficult because half the city is yet to be digitised. So, the state government was the last resort for us,” the director of an MSO told Metro after the meeting between Hakim and cable industry stakeholders at Writers’ Buildings.

Industry estimates say 50 per cent — or 21 lakh TVs in Calcutta — are still running on analogue signals.

The document the MSOs had signed in Delhi — a copy of it is with Metro — makes it mandatory for them to convert to the digital addressable system by December 27 midnight but does not say what step may be taken if they do not do so.

Some of the MSOs are in favour of digitisation right away, while others are not. They have, however, decided not to follow the “switch off by genre” schedule suggested by the Centre because of the common belief that the I&B ministry would be left helpless if all operators defy the deadline.

Additional reporting by Arnab Ganguly