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TV screens go blank in Hyderabad, High Court intervenes
It was 'darkness at noon' of a different kind in nearly 20 lakh homes in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, as TV screens went blank on Monday, April 1, 2013, when the new era of mandatory set-top boxes began. The cities experienced total television blackout as the four major Multi System Operators (MSOs) withdrew services by noon, keeping with the March 31 deadline for installing set-top boxes (STB).

However, the High Court of Andhra Pradesh providing interim relief to those who could not purchase set top boxes before the March 31 deadline for cable network digitisation, on Tuesday restrained authorities from taking coercive steps to implement the same. The next hearing of the case will take place after 10 days.

A division bench comprising acting chief justice N V Ramana and justice Vilas V Afzalpurkar passed the interim order while hearing a PIL filed against the Centre by Chalasani Narendra, a city-based rights activist. He contended that the central government had to ensure supply of set top boxes (STB) and the software to facilitate digitisation of cable networks.

“The citizen has the fundamental right to receive information on current issues which affect his life and this cannot be stifled due to failure of the central government,” he argued in his petition. Narendra also claimed that the Centre had extended the deadline for metros like Chennai and Kolkata last year but did not do the same for Hyderabad, Vishakhapatnam and 36 other cities that come under the second phase of the digitisation programme.

After hearing the petitioner’s arguments, the bench asked the assistant solicitor general to find out about the availability of STBs and adjourned the case for ten days while asking the police and district authorities not to take any coercive steps. Transmission to nearly 20 lakh homes, which was disrupted on Monday, is expected to resume temporarily on Wednesday.

Around 10-12 lakh subscribers of Hathway, the city’s biggest MSO which serves 65% of cable TV users, had to content without television while 6.8 lakh customers of Digi Cable were affected. Subscribers of Citi Cable and CTV services, the two other operators, were also affected. Rough estimates suggest that more than 25 lakh households in Hyderabad use cable TV.

An MSO receives transmission from channel broadcasters (television networks) and extends it to local cable operators (LCO). The LCOs provide connectivity to homes. Of the total number of cable TV users in the city, nearly 35% have already gone digital before the deadline. The remaining 65% that failed to install the STB, either due to lack of awareness or short supply of the device, were left without reception on Monday.

A senior official from Hathway said that their customers in some areas of Medak district like Sangareddy too faced a blackout besides those within Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation limits.

District joint collector E Sreedhar, nodal officer overseeing the implementation, said: “We have repeatedly conveyed to the Centre that there is problem with the implementation. But we are yet to receive a reply.” The JC also wrote to the Centre seeking the extension of deadline by a month though the chief minister’s Sunday missive asking for a similar extension evoked no response from the Union government.

Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam are two cities among the 38 cities in the country with a population of more than 10 lakh that were selected for the second phase implementation of Digital Addressable Cable Systems. March 31 was the deadline set by ministry of information and broadcasting for the STB implementation.

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