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Help Power Shortage and Pollution are the worst fallout of Digitalization

Beginning of a Catastrophy
Power Shortage and Pollution are the worst fallout of Digitalization

The simple fact is that this law is in no way in the interest of the common man or the general public. The elite and the upper classes who can afford it already posses digital television, so why force the common man to follow suit.

The Cable television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Act 2011 seems, on the face of it, a fairly innocuous piece of legislation. The law seeks to mandate that all cable T.V. transmissions should be made only by digital mode, meaning that all T.V sets would require a digital Set Top Box attached to them. This, TRAI insists in its report recommending digitalization, would bring in transparency, more channels and digital quality signals into T.V. sets around the country. To those of us who have already invested in a DTH or cable digital box, the issue seems irrelevant, even inconsequential. TRAI has indicated in its report that the U.S. has already gone fully digital in 2009 and it seems only appropriate that an emerging power like India should follow suit. Digital television is already here and it seems only a natural progression that it should replace the old analog technology with modern digital technology. Anyway, since we already have a digital box, how does it affect us?

It does. It affects all of us and it does so very seriously. Like in most things it�s not what they tell you that are most relevant; it�s what they don�t tell you. And there is plenty that they haven�t told us. Consider a few basic facts.

Firstly, it is wholly incorrect, as TRAI states, that the US is totally digital. Both analog and digital transmissions co-exist in the US, and it is purely a business decision of the service provider as to whether he transmits in analog or digital format. There is no compulsion from the state to mandate any specific mode, the decision is left to the business sense and the needs of the subscriber base of the service provider.
But what is of more important is the impact this measure is going to have on two of India�s most pressing concerns - power and pollution. TRAI�s report states that in 2009, there were 91 million subscribers of cable television. Number of TV sets is likely to grow to 250-300 million by 2015 taking a growth of 40% year on year.
A study conducted by the National Resource Defence Council of the US (N.R.D.C.) and funded by the Environment Protection Agency (E.P.A.) indicates that this box is one of the most prolific consumers of energy in US households. A feature of existing boxes is that they remain �on� all the time, even in �Standby� mode when it is not being used.

STBs are Power Guzzlers
The US data estimates an average consumption of 200 kw/H (200 units) per annum for a basic model set top box with higher end models consuming more power. The consumption patterns of digital boxes in India mirror their American counterparts. If this law is implemented, the total power requirement to power 250 million boxes will come to 50 billion units or 50,000 Mu per year. At an average price of `6/- per unit, this comes to a staggering `30,000 crores per year at today�s electricity prices, this is the addl. power bill to be paid by the Indian consumer as the price for mandatory digitalization.
Of equal or even more importance is the physical availability of power to light up this scheme. The Tehri Dam project, a massive flagship power project with an installed capacity of 2000 MW, would provide consumable power of 900 MW after taking into account maximum drawing capacity of 75% and distribution losses of 40%. We would need more than 7 such projects to provide the estimated 6300 or so MW power required to run these boxes. A massive waste of scarce power resources in a country where our Planning Commission estimates that as many as 600 million people still do not have access to electricity.
A fact not widely known is that two thirds of Delhi�s power subscribers consume less than 200 units of electricity and avail a subsidy on their electricity. Since most of these families possess a basic T.V. set, the addl. power consumption from the box could likely push their consumption above the 200 units limit and raise their power bills by as much as 70%. Not to mention an increase in their cable T.V. bills.

Pollution is another headache
The bad news doesn�t end there. 65% of India�s power production comes from coal and thermal power stations. For every unit of power produced by these plants, 1.2 kgs. of carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere.
If 65% of the power required comes from such sources, it implies an addition of 40 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere every year. This probably wouldn�t happen as additional power is not likely to be generated. What would happen is simply more load shedding, power outages and collapse of the central power grid.
It is pertinent to point out that cable T.V. began in rural India much before it spread to Urban areas. The Doordarshan channels were downlinked by a central dish antenna and distributed to all homes which had T.V.�s as well as the village community hall. A local channel was added which aired the local prayer and village meetings as well as other news and views of local interest to the community. These networks are still operating in much the same fashion with a few additional channels added on. They are an important local source of news, entertainment and employment and are far too small to convert to a digital addressable system. The aim apparently is to wipe them out and compel everyone to subscribe and add to the wealth of a few media tycoons.

There is no benefit for Indian industry either. T.R.A.I. admits that the India manufacturers are not yet manufacturing set top boxes. Instead of offering incentives or support to Indian industry to evolve, it simply states that there are plenty of international manufacturers (read China) and they should be given the business which it values at around `50,000 crores. It also recommends a special Customs duty waiver for these imports, further sealing the fate of Indian industry. Since an important component of this system is the software required to run it and the Indian software industry is a world leader, it seems curious that TRAI has shown little or no concern to safeguard the interest of Indian industry.
That TRAI estimates an investment of `50,000 crores in 2010, mostly to be paid out to foreign manufacturers in foreign exchange.
The recent slide of the Indian rupee by as much as 20% in the space of a few days indicates the surprising weakness of our currency and the fragility of our hard currency reserves. The investment cost just rose another 20% to `60,000 crores. By artificially creating another massive demand for foreign exchange at this time, the rupee will slide further leading to higher prices for everything, starting from oil and other energy products like imported coal.

All imported products and all foreign holidays of those who can afford the box and pay it�s power bills, will become costlier.
In fact, in all the discussions and meeting that TRAI had with stakeholders, neither the consumer was invited nor any representative of Indian industry. While voicing the noble sentiment that the consumer was the main stakeholder, the report is conspicuously silent on his view point. Only members of the television industry were invited and even they were deeply divided in their views. The issue of power consumption of these devices and the availability of power in the country was neither raised, nor debated or discussed, and neither TRAI nor the Govt. has given even the slightest consideration to this vital issue. The U.S., the world�s most developed economy and the largest power consumer is increasingly concerned about the impact of these devices on their power resources and the US Deptt. of Energy is working on mandating standards and energy ratings for these products. India of course, is not even thinking about it or taking any action under the Energy Conservation Act to regulate these devices. Yet, without even thinking or considering the consequences of their actions on a power starved nation, the Govt. is planning to force hundreds of millions of these devices into the homes of unsuspecting consumers.
The reasons for this act are not far to seek. The DTH service providers deliver their transmission in digital addressable system format, the format being mandated by the Act. This system does not find favor with the masses due to higher cost and complexity of technology involved.
By mandating this technology for all, a large portion of these unwilling consumers will be forced to invest in a set top box and pay higher power and cable bills. These operators are the prime beneficiaries of this scheme at the cost of the general public and the nation�s power resources and deteriorating environment.
It is apparent that no one has thought through the consequences of this policy. It is not too late for civil society and, policy planners to wake up and plug this massive drain on the nation�s resources before it is too late.
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