Blackout in Delhi, Mumbai exposes chinks in cable industry front

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: Even before the champagne bottles could be opened, a chasm seems to have appeared in the cable operators' fragile unity. After meeting information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj yesterday, a section of the cable trade said that 12-hour blackout of cable TV services which had been planned for today had been called off following the minister's assurance that Cable TV (Networks) Regulation Act Amendment on CAS will pass through the Rajya Sabha (Upper House).

However, Delhi and Mumbai and several other cities across the country are currently experiencing a cable blackout starting 9 am. Representatives and franchisees of at least two MSOs staged a dharna at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, with over a 1,000 protestors joining the morcha that followed. The protestors then handed over a memorandum with their demands for quick implementation of CAS to the prime minister as well as the speaker of the Rajya Sabha, it is learnt.

Across the country, the blackout had varying success though. There was a near total blackout in the Delhi, Patna, Mumbai and Bangalore while viewers in Chennai felt a partial impact. There was however no impact of the stir in Kolkata. 

Said one of the agitators in the capital, who raised pro-Swaraj and anti-broadcasters slogans: "We are not aware of any decision on calling off the stir slated for July 24. And, more importantly, yesterday's meeting with the minister did not have proper representation of the whole cable industry."

According to InCableNet vice chairman Ram Hingorani, Swaraj is currently meeting with opposition leaders in the Rajya Sabha to try and bring about a consensus on the issue. However, lacking any concrete assurance from their Delhi counterparts, Mumbai cable ops too have resorted to a blackout since this morning to express their solidarity. 

MSOs whose services are suspended at the moment in Delhi include Hathway (Win Cable) and Siti Cable. In Mumbai, InCable has participated in the blackout, and so have other major MSOs, says Hingorani.

The division within the ranks and file of cable operators couldn't have been more apparent. As soon as a section of the cable industry started its dharna at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, press releases went out from the National Cable & Telecom Association (NCTA) that what was happening at Jantar Mantar was unethical. 

NCTA's Vikki Choudhry yesterday on Star News had admitted too that being a responsible service provider, the cable fraternity would not blackout TV signals after the assurance from the minister.

"The cable service providers feel that propriety demands that after the assurance of I&B minister they should not black out the cable TV services when the government has given commitment to pass this Bill in the interest of the consumers. However, the ground cable TV distribution companies such as Hathway (Win Cable), who are joint venture partners of Star, and Siti Cable, which is associated with Zee Network have today gone ahead to hold demonstrations , partial blackout and to raise anti pay channel slogans," an NCTA release said.

What does the consumer, in whose name this battle is being fought, feels about such blackouts? Nobody knows because very few have cared to get an average person's views on this. 

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