MUMBAI: Cable TV subscribers in Tamil Nadu will be given free set-top boxes (STBs) by state-owned Arasu Cable as they move to digital addressable system (DAS).


The Tamil Nadu government on Friday announced that it would be distributing free STBs to Arasu Cable subscribers. The initiative is touted as a first of its kind in the country.


Four months after receiving a provisional MSO licence from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) to operate in the DAS era, Tamil Nadu Arasu Cable TV Corporation (TACTV) kick-started its digitisation programme on Friday.


Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami launched the scheme, a pet project of late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, at the Secretariat by distributing STBs to a few beneficiaries.


Approximately 70 lakh Arasu Cable subscribers will now have access to 180 channels in digital quality. The MIB had given a provisional DAS licence to TACTV in April this year.


The STBs would be distributed to users through local cable operators (LCOs). Operators are permitted to charge a one-time activation fee of Rs 200 from the consumers.


Consumers have the option to choose from four packages, all of which include both pay and free channels. While 180 channels are on offer for Rs 125, they get 230 channels for Rs 175, 260 for Rs 225 and 300 for Rs 275. Customers will have to pay Goods and Services Tax (GST) of 18%.


Currently, Arasu is provided a package of 100 channels to subscribers at a cost of Rs 70 per month, which is below that recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). Out of this meagre amount, LCOs are asked to pay nearly 50% to Arasu.


The distribution of free STBs would be completed by December this year, an official said.


The launch marks the implementation of a popular poll promise of the ruling party. For several years, Jayalalithaa had vigorously pursued with the Centre her plea for a licence and it was followed up by her successors.


Chief Minister K Palaniswami, who distributed the STBs, also inaugurated the MPEG 4 upgraded control room for digital signal transmission.


However, LCOs in Tamil Nadu are protesting against TACTV eating into their income and trying to grab their customers by making them pay subscription fee online, bypassing the operators.


LCOs affiliated to various associations that are part of the Federation of Cable TV Associations of Tamil Nadu (FCTATN) recently protested against the state government-owned MSO by observing a fast in Madurai. They complained that, while they owned the last-mile infrastructure, TACTV, which was formed with zero investment, was trying to grab this infrastructure.


TACTVís decision to charge subscription fee directly from customers has also unsettled the LCOs. The LCOs also complained of political interference by the ruling party as many district-level and taluk-level control room operators of TACTV are appointed on the recommendation of ruling-party functionaries.


The LCOs demanded fixing the subscription fee at the TRAI-recommended level, granting right to collect subscription fee to cable TV operators, forming a welfare board for cable TV operators, stringent monitoring of TACTV operations by the MIB and TRAI, and exemption from GST for cable TV operation.


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