Give timeline on CAS rollout, govt. tells MSOs

NEW DELHI: It was the day after for the I&B ministry as far as conditional access system (CAS) rollout is concerned. The outcome of a meeting called by the government with multi-system operators today failed to throw up much clarity as to how fast the rollout of CAS would proceed.


For I&B minister Sushma Swaraj though, she would like to see it come in sooner rather than later. This more so because of the ease with which she finally pushed the Bill through (it was passed by a unanimous voice vote). The ministry has given one day's time to multi-system operators (MSOs) to give in writing the time frame each of them will take to start implementing CAS in the four metros in the first phase.

Reason: depending on the response from the MSOs, the government will go in for the notification of the amendments okayed by Parliament. In the four metros of Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata there are about 150 headends which may need upgradation if CAS is to be implemented.

Though not everybody disclosed what would be their response to the ministry, it appears that MSOs are divided on the issue of CAS rollout with the likes of the Mumbai-based Seven Star stating it is possible in approximately six weeks time, while the big ones like Zee Group subsidiary Siti Cable being more pragmatic and looking for a deadline in the first quarter of next year.

"The I&B ministry has asked each of the MSOs and some big independent cable operators to give in writing by tomorrow (Thursday, 12 December) by when MSOs can start implementing CAS in their areas of operation in the four metros," Jawahar Goel, head of Siti Cable, told after attending the meeting.

The government had called for a meeting of the MSOs today in Delhi at the ministry to discuss the rollout plans for CAS. Incidentally, the invite for the meeting had been sent out last week itself by the I&B ministry, probably in anticipation of the passage of the Cable TV (Network) Regulation Amendment Bill 2002 in Rajya Sabha yesterday.

According to some of the representatives of the MSOs, who attended the meeting, the mood within the ministry was upbeat and it was looking for an "early implementation" of CAS. Officially there is a six months time for the rollout from date of notification of the bill in the official gazette.

"If I read the government's mood correctly, then what the ministry person was trying to convey to us was that the earlier the implementation process starts, the better," Vicky Chowdhry, president of National Cable & Telecom Association (NCTA) and an independent cable operator with a substantial subscriber base in Delhi, said.

Today's meeting was attended, among others, by representatives of Siti Cable, Kolkatta's RPG group, Mumbai's Seven Star, Rajan Raheja-owned Hathway, Spectranet, INCablenet and some big independent cable operators. The meeting was chaired by joint secretary (broadcasting) in the I&B ministry, Rakesh Mohan.

Speaking to, Nader of Seven Star said that the CAS rollout for his company should not be much of a problem. "I think a six to eight weeks time frame is sufficient for us to start implementing CAS even if we initially import the set-top boxes," he added.

But it was Siti Cable's Goel who sounded more pragmatic and articulated the industry's viewpoint more rationally, initial exuberance in the cable industry on passage of CAS notwithstanding.

"The legislators have done their job (by okaying the amendments to the CATV Act) and now it is the turn of the industry to respond in a positive manner," Goel said, adding, "Every constituent of this Rs 15,000 crore (Rs 150 billion) industry should behave responsibly and work towards reducing the burden on cable subscribers."

When asked what time frame Siti Cable was looking at for CAS rollout, Goel thought a little before saying, "There are various logistics to be worked out. We at Siti are looking at a period of end-March and April when we think we'd be ready to implement CAS."

Broadcasters like Sony Entertainment TV can, probably, heave a sigh of relief as big MSOs are not likely to jump the gun in implementing CAS. This means that the telecast of cricket World Cup may just sail through without CAS effecting SET Max's viewership.

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