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Indian Government extends deadline for digital cable TV

The Indian Government has postponed by four months the switchover from analogue to digital cable TV in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, in recognition that just 20% of cable homes had installed the necessary set top boxes.

Announcing the extension just ten days before the 30 June deadline was due to take effect, the first phase of mandatory digitisation of India's cable TV network will now be required by 31 October 2012.

"The assessment of the ground realities compels the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to set a new deadline. It is, however, imperative that the modified target deadline is set with strict benchmarks to ensure that no complacency sets-in in the system and the new target date is achieved collectively by all the stakeholders," the ministry statement said.

Blame was placed upon the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), which issued its regulations on tariffs and interconnection three months later than expected, on 30 April 2012. Negotiations between broadcasters and cable operators were therefore adversely affected, said the ministry, and little time had been afforded to consumers to install digital set top boxes.

The decision to extend the first phase deadline in all four metro cities was made, said the Ministry, in the "public interest and after intensive and extensive consultations as well as written commitments from all the stakeholders for fully implementing the regulations of TRAI."

The states of West Bengal, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu had publically said they would be unable to meet the original 30 June deadline, with the latter two suggesting December 31 as an alternative.

If the deadline had not been extended, it was anticipated television screens would have gone blank in nine million households, with many local cable operators fearing public disorder.

Broadcasters, however, are unhappy with the digital delay. "We are disappointed with the extension. This is an important process, but we understand that the ground is not ready. People are making their own excuses," Sunil Lulla, managing director and chief executive of Times Television Network is quoted as saying in The Hindu. "The government must take strict punitive action against those who fail to comply with the new deadline."

The government says it will now monitor the process of digitization over the coming four months, and provide warnings to those falling short of their written commitments.

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