MSOs' feedback rules out early rollout of CAS

NEW DELHI: An early rollout of CAS looks unlikely, though the government (read the information and broadcasting ministry) would like an early implementation in the four metros in the first phase. This becomes evident from the feedback that some of the MSOs have given to the I&B ministry as had been directed.

Siti Cable, one of the biggest MSOs in the country, with a claimed total subscriber base of over 6 million households, in its reply to the government on CAS yesterday, has indicated that it would be in a position to implement digital conditional access (CA) by April 2003 only. But even this is subject to certain conditions and developments like determination of the price of the basic tier of service.

Out of the four metros targeted in the first phase of CA rollout, Siti Cable has operations in three, excluding Chennai.

RPG too has said in its reply to the I&B ministry that it would take nearly six months to rollout CA on its networks in West Bengal. A majority of RPG?s operation is concentrated in Kolkata and its immediate surrounding areas.

When contacted Hinduja Group cable MSO INCableNet's president Rajiv Vyas yesterday, he had said they were still working on a rollout timeline. INCableNet is the dominant MSO in Mumbai.

However, some of the smaller MSOs and independent cable operators have taken a stand that CA can be rolled out within two months time. Vicky Chowdhary of the National Cable & Telecom Association (NCTA) confirmed to that the NCTA, in it's reply to the ministry, has said it would be possible to initiate a rollout within an eight weeks period.

Reportedly, a similar stand has been taken by Mumbai?s Seven Star which has claimed that it already has experimented with CAS on its network in Mumbai.

Siti Cable in a detailed reply has said that it would prefer to go in for a digital CA which is scalable and can be replicated in the 40-odd cities where it has operations.

It has also said that its rollout plans will also depend on the availability of hardware and, more importantly, the broadcasters? pricing mechanism for pay channels and the notification of the basic tier of service and its price by the government.

The Zee Telefilms? cable distribution arm has also pointed out that since it would like to introduce CA on a digital platform, the set-top boxes would have to be imported initially, till such time as India is able to manufacture adequate number of STBs.

In this connection, Siti Cable has also petitioned the I&B ministry to influence the finance ministry in rationalising duty strucutures for import of STBs and possibly go in for a lower duty regime.

A day after getting the CAS issue cleared by the Rajya Sabha (Upper house of parliament) on 10 December, the I&B ministry had called a meeting of MSOs to discuss the rollout plans for CA. The ministry had asked the MSOs to given it a feedback within a day on the individual company's rollout plans.

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