Consumers to pay only for channels they view

NEW DELHI:The Rajya Sabha today unanimously passed the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Bill. The Lok Sabha had earlier passed the Bill in May this year.

Piloting the bill, the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Sushma Swaraj said that the bill provides protection to the consumers and they would be required to pay for only those channels that they would like to view and not for the arbitrarily prepared bouquet by the broadcasters. This would also resolve the controversy of actual subscribers, which had all along been a contention between the broadcasters and cable operators. She said the Government will fix the number of channels in the basic tier and not the specific channels.

The rate for each pay channel would be decided by the broadcasters and the rate lists would have to be displayed by the cable operators. Swaraj hoped the cost of Set Top Boxes (STBs) would come down once these are produced at a mass scale. The STBs would be allowed both in analog and digital forms, she said.

The Bill seeks to provide for:

Empowering the Government to mandate through notification, in a phased manner, installation of addressable systems for viewing pay channels;

Free-to-air channels in the areas thus notified , to continue to be received by the subscribers in the existing receiver sets without having to go through the addressable systems;

A provision that the subscriber would not be required to change the receiving set irrespective of the channels that he wishes to receive and to provide that he would be free to view the channels from amongst those offered by the cable service providers;

The flexibility for adoption of technological advancements and upgradation in the addressable systems and to provide that the technical standards and performance parameters of the systems would be laid down by the Bureau of Indian Standards, from time to time;

The Government to prescribe, from time to time, the maximum amount to be paid by the subscriber to the cable service provider for the basic service tier consisting of the bouquet of notified free-to-air channels and to determine the number of channels to be included in this tier and the maximum cost for the same in different States/cities/areas of the country, from time to time; and

Effective enforcement of the amendments, violations of which would constitute a cognizable offence.

The Government has been monitoring the implementation of the Act and taking corrective measures as and when considered necessary. Amendments were made in the Act in the year, 2000, vide, the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Act, 2000. In recent months, there has been a great public outcry against frequent and arbitrary hike in the cable subscription charges.The subscription rates are being fixed arbitrarily by broadcasters and cable service providers in almost area specific monopolistic distribution system and the subscribers no choice to ask and pay for the channels he wishes to view.

At present, there is no legal or administrative instrument by which the Government could intervene and regulate the subscription charges or ask the cable service providers to transmit/retransmit television signals through any addressable system which would enable record of actual viewership leading to under-reporting of the number of subscribers by the cable service providers, Multi Service Operators (MSOs) and broadcasters, which, in turn, is also affecting revenues due to the Government.

The public demand for Government intervention is such that it needs to be addressed on a priority basis. Besides mandating the viewing of pay channels through an addressable system, the Government would notify from time to time and place to place, the subscription of the basic tier of free-to-air channels, since the primary objective is ensure that every subscriber receives at least a minimum number of free-to-air channels at reasonable cost.

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