Lack of supplementary policy is likely to hinder the plan to digitize television broadcasting in the country as cable operators have been told to phase out analog transmission, but the government hasn’t taken appropriate measures to enforce the directive.
The Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) has instructed cable operators to make necessary arrangements to ensure that the analog signal being used to provide cable television service is replaced by a digital signal by May.
Accordingly, a number of big cable service providers have readied a digital platform. However, the MoIC has no concrete plan about what to do if cable operators do not comply with the government’s directive. Consumers switching to digital service will have to connect a set-top box to their television set. They will experience clear connection and high definition channels through a digital cable connection.
The government will also be able to find out the actual number of cable service users once the system is digitized. As people tend to split their analog connection so that the programmes can be seen on several TV sets, it is difficult for the government and service providers to find out the actual number of users.
The use of digital cable is also expected to boost government revenue as it won’t be easy for service providers to give false information about their subscriber base.
In 2012, the government had begun the process to switch to digital cable service by amending the National Broadcasting Act 1993 and National Telecommunications Act 1995. Based on the amendments, the government directed cable operators to digitize their service within three years.
A number of issues like lack of preparation, the 2015 earthquake and subsequent blockade obstructed the government’s plan. The government’s initiative is in line with the 2017 deadline set by the International Telecommunication Union of the United Nations (UN) for countries to go digital.
After a hiatus of more than four years, the government finally took a position and directed cable TV operators to switch to digital from May 2017. Initially, the provision will be applied to cable operators in Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Lalitpur, Pokhara, Biratnagar and Birgunj. The government aims to extend the cable digitization process to 58 other towns by mid-November 2017 and across the country by mid-April 2018.
“In line with the government’s plan, a number of cable service providers have already switched to a digital network,” Ramchandra Dhakal, joint secretary at the MoIC, told the Post. “We do not have any harsh measure to take against those who do not comply with the decision. We aim to make it a gradual process.”
The only way the MoIC has in mind to enforce compliance is licence renewal. It has made it mandatory for analog cable operators to obtain a licence for digital service.
Since all cable operators aren’t capable of switching to a digital network, the digitization drive will encourage small operators to merge with bigger ones or create a consortium which will also help increase the number of big service providers with a large customer base.
Likewise, small operators can buy signals from digital cable operators and use their own brand name and import set-top boxes with their brand to stay in business.
“As per the government’s plan, we are supposed to stop analog transmission from May 1. The government, however, has asked us not to shut down our analog service right away, which is a bit confusing,” said Sudheer Parajuli, president of the Federation of Cable TV Associations of Nepal.
He added that a majority of big cable service operators were technically prepared to upgrade their service.
There are around eight cable service providers in Kathmandu, Parajuli said. They estimate that around 1 million set-top boxes will be required to digitize services in five major cities in the first phase.
It has become difficult to convince people to upgrade their connection to digital due to the government’s apathy towards promoting new technology, cable TV operators said.