Win win situation for ACN, whether digital or analogue


Port Blair, Oct. 19: (Report: Mary Pee & Denis Giles): The Andaman Cable Network today launched its Digital Service at Hotel T.S.G. Emerald View, Port Blair. The service was launched by the Chief Guest on the occasion Shri. S.B.S. Deol (IPS), Director General of Police, Andaman & Nicobar Islands.

Addressing the gathering Shri. Dhinakaran of Andaman Cable Network expressed his views about the advantage of switching from Analog to Digital. He asserted that ACN was waiting for a long time for the launch of Digital Cable.

Since the Government of India has made digitalization mandatory, it is an edge for the ACN to be well prepared in advance before the stipulated time which was slated for 1st November 2014.

Analog offers only 80 to 100 channels and it is allotted with a bandwidth of 8 MHz, whereas Digital offers 600 channels and it can accommodate consumers request as well. Since Analog has become obsolete throughout the world, India too wanted to go Digital with the rest of the world and hence TRAI has made it mandatory to switch from Analog to Digital.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has made digitization mandatory for all the metro cities and the first phase was due in July 1st 2012 for all the metro cities. Since the Set Top Box (SBT) is not manufactured in India and it has to be imported from China, metro cities like Chennai could not meet the deadline and may have to face the termination of the cable service.

The ACN had placed an order for 4,300 Set Top Box and it was delivered after four months and now the Digital Service are available in Port Blair for the convenience of the consumer although the deadline is November 2014. The Consumers are free to switch to Set Top Box or they can retain the cable service till November 2014.

The Digital Service has deployed MPEG 4 (Motion Picture Expert Group), High Definition (HD) boxes instead of MPEG 2, since all the channel Broadcasters are already using MPEG 4 which is an advance version of MPEG 2 .  It also offers better quality and service and with MPEG4, 8 channels can be upgraded. He also asserted that in the near future the High Definition (HD) TV will be available at an affordable cost, and 100% of the consumers will have Set Top Box at their home.

About the pricing of Set Top Box, Dhinakaran said it will be sold to the consumer @ Rs. 2200/- per piece. 300 channels will be offered to the consumer at Rs. 350/- per month inclusive of all service tax. For those who are using more than one Television in the same premises additional charge of Rs.175/- will be applicable for each Television.

“Dish TV was the earliest DTH operator and they incurred a loss of Rs. 2 cr. and we cannot afford to lose such huge amounts and we have to abide by the Government’s order. The DTH also faces space constraint with satellite”, he said.

The CAS (Conditional Access System) which comes under the Cable Television Act will generate CAS every month. As per connectivity the CAS will declare how many people are watching and based on that the cable operators will be charged, Dhinakaran explained.

The Set Top Box will also be available on monthly rental at Rs. 50/-, for those who cannot afford to purchase the full Set Top Box.

The set top boxes will be taken back once the consumer wish to discontinue the service with a depreciation of Rs. 650 and Rs.1600 will be refunded.

For bringing the Set Top Box to the Islands, the Andaman Cable Network faced many challenges, Dhinakaran said. The ACN had to attend two exhibitions held in 2010 and 2011 respectively. The technology was new and they had to acquire knowledge about the S.T.B (Set Top Box) and its application.

Shri. Dhinakaran also assured that the consumer will enjoy more choices of channels with better quality and with the help of the E.P.G. (Electronic Programme Guide), consumer will have easy access to channels; learning remote will also be provided which is compatible with Television Remote.

Dhinakaran lastly extended his thanks to the State Bank of India for releasing the loan in a short span of time and thus they were able to get the Set Top Box to the Islands well before hand.

Speaking on the occasion the Director General of Police, Shri. S.B.S Deol explained how innovation in technology has made life convenient for us. With the  lack of entertainment facilities in the islands, television with digitalized channels will surely be a convenient mode of entertainment, he expressed. Deol also congratulated the ACN for their advance initiative in digitalizing the channels much ahead of GOI norms.

The Conflict: While the Andaman Cable Network has claimed to be obeying the GOI’s norms to digitalize channels in true letter and spirit, well ahead of the stipulated deadline, the customers of ACN feel otherwise.

The question is, ‘what was the need to go for digitalization two years ahead of the deadline’? The answer to which Dhinakaran said was, “We did not want to lag behind. Chennai as on date has not been able to digitalize inspite of the deadline getting over in July 2012”.  

Why the pricing of Set Top Box has been decided to be Rs. 2200/- while other states in India offer is for less than half the price? To this Dhinakaran said, “Dish TV and other companies have already incurred heavy losses because of low pricing. The loss is to the tune of Rs. 2 Crore annually and we cannot afford to do that. Moreover, there is no subsidy given by the A&N Administration for this”.

He further said, “Each Set Top Box costed them more than Rs. 2100/- and hence we are not able to reduce the cost”.

Will there be a choice of channels to the customers? The reply was no. “The customers will be offered 300 digitalized channels at the rate of Rs. 350/- per month if they purchase the STB @ Rs. 2200/-“.

Is it mandatory for customers to buy the STB? Dhinakaran said, “It’s not mandatory as of now but by Oct. 2014 it will be mandatory. At present we are targeting well to do customers who can afford the STB”.

Will the existing customers using analogue service be provided with the same number of channels they used to receive? The answer was no. This is because ACN is forced to reduce around 15 channels from the existing 80 provided by them.

In such a case will ACN reduce the monthly subscription charges for analogue customers? Dhinakaran said, “No. We never increased the charges even though we increased the number of channels from time to time”.

With the installation of 4300 Set Top Boxes, the Andaman Cable Network is estimated to earn around Rs. 45 Crores in  two years before digitalization is made mandatory in Andamans. By selling the existing 4300 STB, the ACN is expected to earn around Rs. 9,460,000/-. Apart from this a two year subscription @ Rs. 350/- for 4300 customers is expected to earn around Rs. 36,120,000/- for the Andaman Cable Network. In such a case it appears to be a win win situation for the ACN, whether or not digitalization is made mandatory.