Technology

I&B ministry calls for Cas extension meeting on 5 June















NEW DELHI: The information & broadcasting ministry is finally taking the decisive step towards full rollout of Cas in the three metros with a meeting scheduled for 5 June between the ministry officials, Trai mandarins, the nodal officers and respective chief secretaries.


Sources said that the officials have been invited by the ministry to decide on the announcement of Cas extension within the next few weeks, and it would be implemented from December.

 

Meanwhile, Trai has convened a meeting on 8 June to resolve one of the most burning issues that has marked the first and limited phase of Cas rollout: the feud between multi-system operators (MSOs) and broadcasters over SMS systems and proper payment of actual number of viewers.


It is learnt that the two meetings would complement each other because broadcasting sources said they would lobby with the government to stop full Cas rollout unless their woes are taken care of. Extension would mean a jump from roughly 15 million households to a universe of around 80 million, and losses would mount tremendously.


Senior officials also said that this time it would not be a part-by-part announcement, and the extension through the entire areas of the metros and the adjoining areas would be announced at one go, but the implementation would be in phases.


What is crucial is that the time schedule for each phase would also be announced at one go, because that would give all the players time enough to get their business plans and infrastructure ready, and all the phases would have to be covered by June 2008, sources disclosed.


But more importantly, said one source, the plan to announce the schedule for all the phases in all the metros at one go is aimed by the government to bring down the prices of set top boxes drastically, so that the poorest of households can more readily go for digital, encrypted feed as part of the government‘s `Go Digital‘ programme.

 

"If the majority of households, who are financially weak, have to pay through their noses, there is a good chance of them not wanting to go for the STBs and illegal feeding could take place on a wide range," one official said.


Interestingly though the ministry has sent the invitations, they have not laid out the parameters of discussion, and most invitees do not know who are the other likely attendees.


Trai senior officials told Indiantelevision.com: "We know we have been invited, and the CC marked is for the four nodal officers of the four metros, and we know that this meeting is for the extension of Cas, but we are not aware of either who all are invited, or what the ministry exactly wants to do. We have said they should extend Cas to the entire areas under the four metros."


Asked if Trai sees any hitches and problems in full extension to such a large universe, the official said: "There will not be any problem. All the players, including us and the ministry have learnt from the first experimentation, and the main problem just in the initial phase had been shortage of reliable STBs.


"There is no problem on that account any more and other infrastructural issues have been tackled well by the large MSOs already in the field. We hope the government will give us a six-month period from announcement to implementaion, so that the smaller new MSOs are also ready, because we want to promote competition."


MSOs, however, are unhappy that they have been left out of the ministerial meeting, and feel that their issues needed to be placed at that level too.


Even broadcasters have reportedly not been called and this is where the latter feel that unless they get paid for the precise number of STBs that are viewing each channel, they would resist Cas extension, because that would mean huge losses. There could be any number of law suits on this score.


"This would change nothing, because the whole point was to make the system addressable, and if we still do not get paid as per number of boxes on which we are being watched, Cas has failed. So why extend a failed system?" a senior broadcaster told Indiantelevision.com.


However, the 8 June meeting, which was earlier to take place on 6 June, is expected to sort that out.


"I am sure a satisfactory resolution will come. After all, the MSOs and broadcasters have to do business together, and if MSOs are finding it difficult to feed the data on to SMS, may be they would ask for more time. Broadcasters would give their solutions as well," a Trai official said.


However, Trai has not worked out any formula for this, and would leave that between the parties concerned. "We will facilitate a proper resolution" the official said.

 

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