CAS gets Union Cabinet clearance

The Union Cabinet gave the go-ahead to bring about amendments to The Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 to allow the imposition of conditional access systems in India a few minutes ago by government regulation. The clearance came in the form of an "enabling provision", which means that the government can - if it chooses to - push ahead with CAS when it chooses to exercise that power. The Union Cabinet met today amidst speculation in the television trade that it would not be able to do so as a function in Parliament was keeping it busy. But the meeting was postponed to 7 pm and CAS was included in the agenda..

Following the Cabinet clearance, the government has the powers to make addressable set top boxes mandatory for pay TV channels. It can also fix the maximum price that can be levied for the basic tier consisting of free to air channels which cable TV operators provide to subscribers. The Cabinet however did not dwell on technology issues.

A time frame was not decided when CAS would be given the push by government, but a government official stated that he was hopeful that since the amendments have been cleared they should go to parliament in this session. "We are hopeful it will be passed by the House before it adjourns on 16 May." .

The go-ahead to CAS is going to cause a lot of heartburn amongst broadcasters, who have been opposing it, saying it has to be carried out in a proper manner. In fact, Star Asia boss James Murdoch had blasted the CAS initiative by the government, and had been making presentations to government against it, saying that broadcasters would lose even the minimum basic subscriptions revenues that they were generating from cable TV ops because of CAS. believes that lobbying and opposition to CAS is going to commence from broadcasters in the near future, who are likely to try and unite against it.

Contrary to expectations the move to bring about amendments to cable TV regulations did not meet with much opposition from the cabinet. The Rakesh Mohan committee had also recommended that the rollout of CAS be done in a phased manner beginning with the metros first.

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