Cable TV

Maharashtra government doubles cable TV tax rate

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The government in the western Indian state of Maharashtra has doubled the entertainment taxes that cable TV operators have to fork out to its coffers. Taxes were levied at the rate of Rs 5,10, and 15 per subscriber, depending on the subscriber's location. These have been doubled. The purpose to enhance the state's revenues. The government made these announcements in the state budget for 2000-2001 announced yesterday.

Maharashtra is amongst the leading cable TV viewing states in India. And there is alarm that other state governments may also make similar moves in their budgets.

Fears have also risen that the imposition will actually lead to a rise in subscriber fees because cable TV operators will not be interested in forking out the higher duty from their pockets. Currently, cable TV subscriber rates in Maharashtra range between Rs 75 and Rs 125 a month. These are expected to go up by about 25 per cent at least with the average cable TV fees rising to Rs 125, unlike Rs 100 that is the average currently.

Says Siticable western region head D.K. Pandey: "We do not have to pay entertainment tax, it's the cable TV operator who has to do so. We are not really impacted by the hike."

The other MSO in Maharashtra InCableNet is expected to voice a protest against the government's impost later today. It has been lobbying with the government on this issue. But will the higher entertainment tax result in substantially higher revenues to the exchequer?

Marginally, probably. Normally, cable TV operators tend to under-declare their subscriber base to the tune of 70 per cent to subscription channels and to government as they want to stem the outflow of money from their end. Since there are no audits or subscriber declaration compulsions to a cable TV authority, they fudge their numbers to reduce their burden. That will likely continue here too. If the tax authorities insist on tax payments based on last year's entertainment tax disclosures, the cable operator can easily turn around and say that he has lost subscribers to rival or smaller operators or they have not renewed their subscription.

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