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Why Assam cable operators are going on strike?

MUMBAI: It was in September that the Assam Power Distribution Company Limited (APDCL) sent out its first circular, making it mandatory for cable operators in the state to pay Rs 25 per electric pole per month, with the deadline being 7 October. However, the cable operators had requested APDCL to lower the rate as they would earn revenue from many other service providers who are using the electric poles as well.

But all their efforts seem to have gone in vain as the APDCL seems unconvinced on the issue. After reviewing the request made by the operators in October, while APDCL has reserved its views on the other parts of Assam and lower Guwahati, it has asked the operators in Guwahati Metro to pay Rs 25 per electric pole every month starting 15 January.

The decision which was taken in a meeting held on 17 December is set to affect more than 250 cable operators providing cable TV service in Guwahati Metro area. The operators represented by Greater Guwahati Cable TV Operators' Association (GGCTOA) general secretary Md Iquebal Ahmed were asked to file a confirmation letter accepting the fee module.

However, while they didn’t follow what they were asked to, around 100 cable operators met on 19 December to discuss the issue and have decided to switch off cable TV signals today from 4 pm - 9 pm.

Apparently, GGCTOA held a press conference on Sunday and made an announcement about the same.

The operators in Guwahati Metro area have refused to pay Rs 25 per pole per month. “Though we have been told that the electric poles will be given exclusively to us and that we can even give it to advertisers to put up hoardings, or collect revenue from the broadband or telecom operators who are also using the pole, but this is all verbal. Nothing has been given to us in writing,” informs Ahmed.

There are approximately 2.8 lakh electric poles in Guwahati Metro area, of which around 1.8 lakh poles are being used by the cable operators. The matter is currently being handled by APDCL Lower Assam division CGM commercial P. Buzarbauah. “We need a written agreement of all that has been proposed in the meeting. When we asked for it, we were asked to sign the letter first. But, how can we be sure that whatever has been said will be followed later,” he says.

Also the APDCL has given no clarity on who will be collecting the money from the operators and also the advertiser who uses the electric pole to put the hoarding. GGCTOA has also requested the APDCL to directly deal with operators to collect the fee. “We had asked them to sign an agreement with each cable operator, so that they can directly be made responsible for payment or non-payment of the fee. But, the APDCL is passing the buck on to us,” informs Ahmed.

“According to what the body has proposed, it is GGCTOA which will need to collect the pole fee from operators and submit it to APDCL. But how am I responsible if say of the three operators who are using the pole for laying cable wires, two pay the electric pole usage fee, while one doesn’t? So we are demanding that the APDCL signs an agreement with operators directly and not hold us responsible,” he adds.

After waiting for almost two months, while decision is still pending for other regions of Assam, Guwahati Metro region cable operators are surely unhappy. “We even plan to meet Assam Industries & Commerce, Power (Electricity) and Public Enterprises minister Pradyut Bordoloi and also chief minister Tarun Gogoi in order to resolve the issue,” concludes Ahmed.

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