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Lotus Tower to be used for digitising all TV channels

Colombo lotus tower will be managed by a state owned company with its facilities to be offered to the private sector for the use of  local TV channel digitalization, a senior minister disclosed.  

The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) will sign a management agreement with and hand over the running of the Colombo Lotus Tower to a fully Treasury-owned company with an independent Board of Directors.

The Board will have nominees of TRCSL which is the owner of the asset. As the sector regulator, the TRCSL is not mandated to carry out commercial operations as it would be a conflict of interest. The proposal to set up the Colombo Lotus Tower Company was recently approved by the Cabinet.

All TV channels based in the western province will be digitalised by using Lotus Tower as the centralised point by December 31 2023, Media Minister Dallas Allahaperuma said. 

Minister Alahaperuma said the digitalisation will be done by using Lotus Tower and 16 other towers.

We were to go for digitalisation of TV channels in December 2021 but could not even begin the process. However we have now embarked on it with Japanese assistance,” the Minister added.

“All viewers will be able get quality pictures through their TV sets at an affordable amount when digitalisation is fully implemented,” he said

The agreement for the project was signed around nine years ago by China National Electronics Importers and Exporters Corporation (CEIEC) and Aerospace Long March International Trade Co. Ltd (ALIT) with the TRCSL. 

The CEIEC has for months being doing defect rectification and finishing touches which have been quite extensive. 

It must complete substantial paperwork and certifications–under a team from Moratuwa University that handled design review and project management–before handing the completed project over to the TRCSL. The Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau will also carry out a vetting.

The Chinese company also ran into some trouble in November last year when the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned and placed it on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) List for providing goods and services to the administration of Nicholas Maduro in Venezuela. 

This means that, on the Sri Lanka Attorney-General’s advice, the TRCSL has suspended the payment of a remaining US$ 15mn to the contractor (who has consented to this).

It will thereafter be the task of the new company to commercialise the asset. However, a volunteer team of experts set up by the regulator has already drawn up a comprehensive multi-pronged strategy which will be shared for consideration. A raft of tenders is likely to be called in the process of monetizing the project.

The Lotus Tower and the decision to build it attracted widespread public and political criticism. Questions were repeatedly raised about the delay in putting it to use. 

Initially, this was the result of the construction developer requesting an extension. But, midway, the project also lost a sense of direction. Consequently, even by 2019, there was no commercialisation plan despite the construction drawing to an end.

Despite not being ready for use, the tower was “inaugurated” in September. It was, however, an empty structure that needed much more work before it could be formally taken over. 

The project is a complex operation with an integrated building management system but it had been necessary to check that it was properly commissioned and functioning, from air conditioners and chillers to security and generators.

 The lifts, too, needed verification and attention as they had not been maintained for months. The TRCSL has been cleared to have them checked again by a third party. The lifts are so fast that they travel seven metres per second (the structure is 350m tall).

Last year, a full fire drill was also implemented involving around 200 people including the military and medical staff. It was found then that the fire pumps had not started up automatically as they should. 

Another delay was over the allocation of the Lotus Tower land which was not finalised till the Cabinet approved it two weeks ago. 

Four acres belonged to the Urban Development Authority while three acres was the Sri Lanka Port Authority’s. The entire seven acres have now been vested with the TRCSL after much discussion.

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