Cable TV

Proposed Tamil Nadu Cable TV Act termed an anachronism of the Dark Ages era

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Cable TV industry professionals are aghast at the AIADMK-led Jayalalitha government's proposal to push through an act at the state level which basically overrides Central government legislation on cable TV.

Says the Mumbai-based head of a large MSO: "This is basically taking television back to the dark ages...it's an anachronism...it's almost as if administrative and royal might is all that counts...neither is the individual nor enterprise important."

According to legal experts, if the state government's legislation does get the governor's assent then it will be a constitutional violation because cable TV legislation comes under telegraphy which is a Central government subject.

And the state government is attempting to push through a local act at a time when the Central government has proposed an amendment of its Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 to incorporate conditional access systems.

There are other clauses within The Tamil Nadu Exhibition on Television Screen through Multi-System Operations, Video Cassette Recorder and Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 2002 which are rankling legal experts.

The act reportedly makes it compulsory for video libraries, cable TV operators to get an annual licence from the government. It gives the government the right to decided the number of subscriber connections a cable TV operator can provide in his area of operation and the price that can be charged.

Sources indicate that it is the intent of the Jayalalitha government to keep the limit per network at 100 subscribers, a level which is extremely unviable to run a multichannel operation. Additionally, it reportedly also seeks to disallow licensing of siblings of those who already have been licensed.

"This is a violation of an individual's fundamental consitutional right of freedom," says the legal expert.

Industry observers indicate that the Act is being introduced with the express intent of breaking the Sun Network's grip on the cable TV population in Tamil Nadu - it controls more than 70 per cent of the cable TV subscribers in the state. The Sun Network is backed by Kalanithi Maran - a scion of the DMK Party political leadership, which is the rival of the Jayalalitha-led AIADMK.

In 1997-98, the AIADMK government had attempted to set up a master control room with the support of local cable TV operators but the effort failed when the government changed. The Sun Network then went on to create Sumangali Cable Vision - which in turn forged alliances with several local cable ops to end up with a 70 per share of the market.

This is something which has irked Jayalalitha who has cable TV and satellite TV ambitions (she runs Jaya TV) and she is extremely eager to get back her piece of the cable TV action in the state and hence the new legislation.

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