ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Digitalisation of TV Distribution: Affordability and Availability

The second amendment to the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Act passed in Parliament in December 2011 mandated that the distribution of signals of cable and satellite television, from the local cablewala to subscribing households, be exclusively in the digital mode. Four years after the act was passed, and after completion of three phases of the digital migration, the aim is to find out if the emergent regulatory framework did anything at all to enhance the television-viewing experience for cable and satellite TV subscribers.

This article has emerged from the ongoing project “Tracking Access under Digitalization” at the Centre for Culture, Media and Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia. The authors are grateful to respondents in Delhi and Patna for sharing their experiences about cable television; to Biswajit Das, Pradosh Nath and Manoj Diwakar for their invaluable insights; and, to Ford Foundation for constant support.

In December 2011, television (TV) signals were distributed through two technological platforms: the wired, cable system and the wireless, Direct To Home (DTH) system. While cable, existing since the early 1990s, had gathered 94 million subscribers by 2011, DTH managed to garner over 46 million households since its introduction in 2004.1 From a regulatory and commercial perspective, the significant fact is that, unlike in DTH, the distribution of signals on the cable platform functioned in the analogue mode.

The cable distribution sector in this mode has been fraught with problems due to lack of transparency. The monthly rent paid by the subscriber was unrelated to the number or popularity of the channels provided, and depended on the cable operator’s perception of what a subscriber could afford. This has made dual pricing a key trait of the cable business since its inception.

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