Progressive move

It is unfortunate that the proposal for digitisation of the cable TV network in the four metro cities has met with opposition for very untenable reasons. The Centre had set a deadline of October 31 for the shift from analogue to digital signals on the basis of a proposal from the TRAI.

The courts have refused to interfere with the decision except in Chennai where the deadline has been extended to November 5.

But there is continuing resistance to the decision and cable operators and political parties are campaigning against it. In West Bengal, chief minister Mamata Banerjee has threatened a popular  agitation, though her party had supported the decision when it was part of the UPA government. In fact it was a minister belonging to the party who had announced the decision in Parliament.

The advantages of digitisation are many. Analogue technology is outdated and has severe limitations in many respects. It is true that customers have to make an initial investment when buying set top boxes for digitisation. But the government can offer a subsidy wherever necessary as the customers benefit in many ways. While they can receive only a limited number of channels in the analogue system, hundreds of channels will be available after digitalisation.

Customers will have better choice and control because they will be able to choose the channels they want and will need to pay only for what they watch. A minimum 100 free-to-air channels will be available for a monthly payment of Rs 100. At present viewers are at the mercy of operators who provide only channels which they select for commercial reasons. Transmission will be better with the use of the new technology. In spite of all these benefits the idea is being opposed and full shift to the new system has not taken place.

Cable TV operations are not properly regulated in many places. Operators underreport the number of connections to evade taxes. This makes it difficult for broadcasters to estimate their viewership  correctly.

There is need for more transparency in the area for commercial and other reasons. The government should not succumb to the pressure of the operators and some political parties who have only shortsighted and populist reasons to oppose the decision. Consumers should also realise that it is in their interest to accept the new technology. The digitisation idea should be extended to all other  parts of the country after it is implemented in the metros.

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