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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Oct 31 digital TV deadline can’t be pushed back: Bombay HC

Several Have Already Made Switch: Court

    Mumbai is set to go digital from Thursday. The Bombay high court on Wednesday refused to extend the deadline for cable operators to implement the digital system and install set-top boxes for its viewers. 

    Though the multi-system operators tried to raise the prospect of a TV blackout in the city when analog signals are discontinued after the October 31, 2012, deadline, a division bench of Justice Dhananajay Chandrachud and Justice Rajesh Ketkar questioned the conduct of the petitioners who had shown no commitment to installing set-top boxes despite the extension of an earlier deadline. The court's order came even as the Madras high court gave a five-day breather to cable viewers in Chennai to install set-top boxes. 
    "A certain degree of inconvenience is inevitable in the enforcement of any deadline and whenever there is a change to a new regime. The government has taken this decision with a view to provide quality service to consumers. Individual business hardships must give way to public interest," said the judges. The court, however, was aware that ultimately it will be the viewers who would be affected. 
    "We do not want people's Diwali to be blacked out. Television these days is the only source of entertainment for the average middle-class. We are not concerned about the operators or broadcasters, but the viewers," observed Justice Chandrachud. The court got the Union of India and the additional solicitor general to agree that care would be taken to ensure that the common man's Diwali would not be disturbed due to the TV blackout. 
    The court was hearing a petition filed by Bhawani Rajesh Cable and Digitech, a multi-system operator, challenging a notification of June 2012 setting the deadline of October 31 for cable operators to install set-top boxes. 
    Accusing the DTH lobby of pushing for digitization, the petitioners sought a two- to four-month extension. 

    ASG K Setalvad along with advocate Dhiren Shah, who represented the Union government, informed the court that the earlier deadline of June 2012 had been extended to October 2012. The ASG pointed to an information and broadcasting ministry press release which said that 100% of the declared households in Mumbai had already installed set-top boxes. The petitioners, too, claimed that 85% of cable viewers had already shifted to set-top boxes. The court said that since a substantial 
number of cable viewers had already shifted to the new system, the remaining could also do so as the government had assured the court that sufficient number of set-top boxes were available. Times View: The viewer shouldn't be inconvenienced 
    The cable TV industry has been held hostage by local operators for far too long. Local politicians control a significant portion of this money-spinning industry, which explains the operator's clout. Reports coming in from the ground, about consumers being denied set-top boxes by these operators, and politicians asking the centre to extend the deadline again fall into a pattern. Cops and the government should ensure that the change of regime happens as seamlessly as possible with minimum inconvenience for the viewer. 
Kolkata cablemen threaten to block digital TV 
Kolkata: Cable operators in the city have threatened to pull the plug on all cable channels if broadcasters stop analogue transmission from Thursday. In a meeting convened by Cable Operators Digitization Committee, a forum set up by operators who fear public ire if analogue transmission stops, operators said they would stop digital transmission as well if the Centre stuck to the October 31 deadline. 
    With no indication of a relaxation from the Centre, the administration deployed additional forces in all 65 Kolkata police station areas, with special focus on the southern fringes. The other potential problem areas were identified as Howrah, Bidhananagar, Barrackpore and Hooghly. 
    The Madras HC on Wednesday extended the deadline in Chennai to November 5. 
    "If the Centre goes ahead with digitization despite CM Mamata Banerjee's warning of massive unrest and a law-and-order problem, we will have no option but to shut down digital transmission as well. We can't have a situation in which some people get to see TV and others do not. That will trigger anger and violence," said forum member Swapan Chowdhury. 
    Mamata held a meeting with urban development minister Firhad Hakim to check if TVs in the city would continue to beam channels and discuss a strategy to quell violence should it erupt. Hakim, who is overseeing cable TV digitization, had earlier met MSOs and operators, and stressed upon the need to keep channels switched on. 
    "If the Centre does not listen to reason and forces the issue, we will counter it in the interest of our people," Hakim said, reiterating supply of set-top boxes needed to improve. He also called for EMI schemes so that viewers from all economic sections could avail of it and not be deprived of entertainment simply because they did not have the means to pay.


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