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Chennai cable digitisation falls behind schedule

The Chennai State Government's Arasu Cable TV Corporation and Sun TV Network's Sumangali Cable Vision are unlikely to meet the mandatory deadline of 1 July to digitise the metro's cable television network, according to The Times of India.

Chennai, along with Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, is part of the first phase of India's ambitious nationwide cable digitisation programme, now enshrined in law. However, in Chennai, only 12.5% of subscribers now have set top boxes to enable digital reception, according to the daily newspaper.

Thamizhaga Cable TV Operators General Welfare Association, representing the service providers of some 90% of the state's cable subscribers, told the Times of India the digitisation process in Chennai will take another four months or more. Arasu has reportedly asked for six months extension to launch digital services.

"It is highly impossible to launch digital network in Chennai before July," the association's president, P Sakilan is quoted as saying. "Of the total 40 lakh [4 million] consumers in Chennai, about 25 lakh are middle and lower class family," he said, adding that the lower-middle class would not be able to afford STBs.

Even if set top boxes were distributed without charge, Sakilan reportedly claims it would take four months to import, test and deliver them to consumers in Chennai.

Arasu has only recently issued a tender for the supply of set top boxes, which calls for 1 lakh or 100,000 of the devices within eight weeks of the contract award. Further set top boxes will be procured "in a phased manner", a government official told the Times of India.

Kolkata is reportedly also way behind in meeting the impending deadline for cable TV digitization at the end of this month.

The Hindu Business Line quotes Swapan Chowdhury, Secretary of the Kolkata-based Cable and Broadband Operators' Welfare Association as saying: "Only 5 lakh [500,000] out of an estimated 40 lakh [4 million] cable TV users in the city have so far opted for digitised signal (through a set-top box)."

Chowdhury added that a lack of set top boxes has delayed the digitisation process, in spite of advance payments by cable and multi system operators in Kolkata.

A Parliamentary Committee also recently reported the 30 June deadline for the complete digitisation of cable TV networks in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata should be extended due to concern over availability of set top boxes.

The Standing Committee for Information and Technology said the initial deadline for the implementation of digital addressable systems should be extended while a government strategy is developed to ensure domestic manufacture of set top boxes (STBs) can both meet demand and be handed a competitive advantage.

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