Residents of Thimphu have a little over a fortnight’s time to ensure they continue receiving their cable TV connections.
Following Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority’s (BICMA) announcement of the switch to digital TV in September, the authority is certain about cutting analog TV signals starting next year.
The decision to switch was made to encourage technology enhancement, provide better customer services, and ensure accountability.
Chief of licensing and compliance division, Wangay Dorji, said the authority are advertising and creating awareness on the switch to digital TV. “But it is difficult to change people’s mindset. Many are waiting to convert their TV signals at the eleventh hour.”
He said that officially, there were a little more than 14,000 cable TV subscribers in Thimphu. “We believe that there would be more subscribers than the number. With the change to digital TV, the exact number of TV sets connected to the cable service will also be transparent.”
All three-cable operators in Thimphu were prepared in terms of infrastructure and technical aspect, following which the move to make the switch began, he said.
Wangay Dorji said that the switch to digital TV in other parts of the country would start by April next year. He said, the Multi Service Operator (MSO), which is a central system for multiple cable operators will be established by May next year. “With the MSO, we will be able to provide the standard channels across the country.”
For instance, he said that today Trashiyangtse has about 10 channels, Pemagatshel has about 15 and Thimphu has 56 channels. “There is no uniformity. Once the MSO is established, the same number of channels with same quality will be disseminated across the country.”
The decision would enhance consumer choice and will also help curb digital divide, he said. “In other places, because of low customer base, cable operators are unable to provide channels because they are unable to meet the cost of operation.”
The MSO could slowly become more interactive and provide customers with video on demand facility. “It will also create an opportunity to promote local content, which at present is difficult because we don’t have such infrastructure.”
He said that the only benefit customers have in analog TV is signal theft. “Besides incurring revenue loss to the government, in analog TV system a customer needs to pay for the service even with a bad TV signal. With digital TV, there would be transparency and it would help empower consumers.”
He said it was also difficult to monitor analog TV whereas digital TV can be monitored. “Starting from distribution to the signal, to the taxation, every TV set is accounted for.”
There were schemes and subsidies in other countries to support certain section of the people, he said but there is no plan at the moment to cater the lower income group. “However, this is something that we have to think about during the nation-wide expansion.”
General Manager of the Etho-Metho Cable Services, Ugyen Penjor, said that close to 3,000 subscribers have switched to digital TV since the announcement. “Everyday, about 100 people are getting connected to digital TV.”
He said that analog TV sets could also get digital TV signals through a cord and that it was not necessary for people to change their TV sets.
Reaching to subscribers to inform about the switch was challenging, he said. “Usually the head of a family is not home when we go door-to-door to inform people. This is the time when people go on vacation and pilgrimages and not many people are home.”
He said that people had the choice to go for any of the three cable operators.
According to the Population and Housing Census of Bhutan, 2017, there were about 120,131 TV sets in the country. About 53,388 TV sets were recorded in urban areas and about 66,386 TV sets in rural areas.