Regulators

Discussions around the CATV Amendent Bill when it was passed by the Lok Sabha on 15 May

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THE MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND BROADCASTING (SHRIMATI SUSHMA SWARAJ): A small amendment in the Cable Act is proposed through this Bill. Though the proposed amendment is small, yet it is very significant. Since the time Cable industries came into existence, all the channels were ‘free to air channel’. The services of cable operators were being provided to the masses at a fix monthly fee. Gradually, broadcasters started converting their channels into pay channels. Then cable operators started recovering this money from subscribers. Consequently, more ‘free to air channels’ were converted into pay channels. Subscribers were the worst affected as a result thereof. Questions in this regard were raised in both the Houses. Many editorials were also published in the newspapers. In view of this, a meeting of cable operators was convened. Cable operators explained that they had to recover the money from the subscribers in order to pay to the broadcaster. After that, we called a meeting of broadcasters and had a discussion with them. They also had their say. According to them, cable operators made under reporting of their subscribers. Then it was realized that it is a three dimensional problem. Subscribers complain that subscription rates are being fixed arbitrarily by broadcasters and cable service providers. Broadcaster complains that he is being deprived of his valid dues due to under reporting by the cable operators. In view of this we constituted a task force which comprised of representatives of each of three sectors. I would like to congratulate the task force for their quick and laudable work. The report submitted by them revealed that all the three problems can be sorted out if Conditional Access System is installed by the Government. We have the right to install CAS but these rights are not covered under any Act. Hence, this amendment is being brought forward so that the Government is empowered to install CAS. I would like to brief the hon. Members that we are making limited intervention in the matter of CAS. The first and foremost thing is to ensure that basic needs of entertainment are provided by cable operators to all at reasonable fixed rate. As far as, pay channels are concerned, subscribers have to pay only for those channels, which they wish to view. Notification to this effect will be issued. This amendment alone will provide the meaningful solution to all the three problems.

SHRI PAWAN KUMAR BANSAL : In a market economy, the forces of demand and supply are constantly at play. This may sound all right and be acceptable in a developed society. But in a developing society like us, it is not only desirable but also imperative that Government intervenes in certain important matters relating to the public and check the exploitation of public by various service providers.

The present Bill is a welcome step because this seeks to keep a check on the subscription rates for the cable television connections. For quite some time now, the cable operators, as the hon. Minister also referred to, being obliged to pay more to the various broadcasters of pay channels, continue to increase the price for the consumers. It was just out of the control. In the days to come, this problem could be further aggravated for the consumer because he would have to pay for all the channels, may be even a 100 pay channel which he may not really want to see. Therefore, various consumer organisations across the country had been demanding the Government that the Government takes some decisive action in this matter and check the profiteering urge amongst the cable operators and the broadcasters and to regulate the subscription rates.

I would like to know the reasons for delay in introducing the Bill. The hon. Minister has done well to distinguish between the free to air channels and the pay channels. It was the need of the hour. A bouquet of free to air channels would now be available to the subscriber, at a nominal rate. We would like the hon. Minister to assure this House about the ceiling on maximum rates for particular services. I nevertheless agree that from time to time rates would have to be revised and therefore, a power like this is necessary. While drawing distinction between free to air channels and pay channels, the Minister has also segregated all the pay channels. Here, a person would be required to pay only for the channels he wishes to access and would be spared of the liability to pay for all the channels that would be available through the cable operator. The assumption of a right to fix rates for each channel is also desirable. I find here that though the Bill has a provision giving the Government the right to fix the maximum rate of a bouquet of free to air channels nowhere in this Bill do we see a provision that gives the Government the right to fix the rates for pay channels.

I agree with the conditional access system being introduced. This is the system we call ‘set top box’. It is an electronic devise through with signals of cable television networks could be set and decoded at the premises of the subscribers. There is no provision whereby we could force the manufacturer or the dealer of set top boxes to ensure that the prices do not rise above a particular level. At present, there is no provision in the Bill to enable the Government to control the price of the set top boxes. I would really want the hon. Minister to assure this House that the manufacturers of these devices should not have a field day and profiteering at the cost of poor viewers. A provision regarding buying of set top box from the free market should be made in sub-section(8).

I welcome the desire of the Government to control the subscription rates etc., in a federal set up. I find one area to be quite nebulous and hazy. It says that while fixing the rates, the Central Government may specify different maximum amounts for different States, cities, towns or areas as the case may be. Will it be practical? Will the Government at the Centre be able to do it? Therefore, this power has to be left to somebody else. While accepting the provision of this Bill, I would like to say that no provision of it should prove to be counter-productive for any section of the society. The provision which we are accepting to be incorporated into law, even for a short period, should be immediately seen to be in the benefit of the people and nobody should be able to derive any benefit at the cost of the people.

SHRI PRAHLAD SINGH PATEL : I support this Bill. This Bill provides protection to the consumer. An important provision is therein that free channels would be covered under 1-10 category. As per the present circumstances, we have to think it over that we have suffered on economic and cultural fronts. This Bill has been brought on at appropriate time and it’s a bold step I congratulate the hon. Minister for bringing this Bill. It is important to present the existing scenario in right perspective. Shri Bansal has rightly said that for controlling print media there is Press Council of India but in case of presentation of distorted version by electronic media there is no check. The Government should think that how to make people aware of the Government policies. The Government have to take firm and effective steps in this regard. There should be check on freedom of electronic media. The price of set top box should be fixed at such level that the consumers do not feel burdened.

SHRI HANNAN MOLLAH : One of the purposes of this Bill is to stand by the lakhs of subscribers. The frequent increase in cable charges by the cable operators is becoming a challenge everywhere. It is a major problem for this entertainment industry and the consumers of the commodity. So, this is the most important thing and the Government has to look into that matter. Then, another problem was there of these broadcasters’ arbitrary fixation of the price of their products. In this Bill, there are certain provisions to control those matters. In the Bill, there is a provision for fixing of the subscription charges. I want a clarification on this. There are different areas with different type of consumers. What will be the criteria for fixing the subscription charges? It should be very transparent, it should be reasonable and it should not burden the common consumers. The second thing is about the mandatory control. The mandatory provision is always against the spirit of autonomy. How will the Government ensure that through the mandatory provision there will never be any encroachment on the media’s autonomy? The third area is about the control to be exercised by the Controller. In our country, unfortunately, there is always the chance of misuse of the powers of the Controller. I would like to know whether this control would be utilised to encourage or discourage certain programme content. After passing of the Convergence Bill, this Act may become irrelevant. Then, what will be the consequences? I would like this point to be clarified by the hon. Minister.

I would like the hon. Minister to clarify as to what would be the cost of either the analogue box or the digital box. Again, within a period of seven to eight years, the technology of the television that is supportive of the system, that would also become obsolete. So, I would like to know whether paying Rs. 100/- or so per month would be beneficial to the consumers or paying Rs. 7000/-. The provisions of the Bill have a tilt towards monopolisation. It appears that gradually the small cable operators would have to wind up. How does the Government propose to protect the interest of the small cable operators? If these issues are clarified, it would be absolutely in the interest of the consumers and it would be a welcome step. But if those ‘ifs and buts’ are allowed to remain, this will lose its meaning in the minds of the people.

SHRI K. YERRANNAIDU : This Cable Television Network (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2002 is expected to regulate the cable operators. Its primary objective is to ensure that every subscriber receives at least a minimum number of free-to-air channels at a reasonable cost. In the present system, consumers are paying more money for the free-to-air channels as well as pay channels. Different pricing mechanism is followed in different areas of different cities. At the time of notification of this Bill, we have to provide a transparent system. The consumer is empowered in this Bill to choose what should come on the television inside his home. After the set-top boxes are provided, the consumer would be required to pay money for the channels that he would wish to watch. If duty on set-top boxes is reduced and the set-top boxes are made available to consumers at lesser prices, more number of people would start using it. This provision would attract huge investments into the country. If it is passed early, it would protect the consumers. The Government should analyse and fix the minimum and maximum amounts for these free-to-air channels. Then the common man would be able to get and utilise these free-to-air channels at lesser amount. I welcome and support this Amendment Bill.

SHRI DHARM RAJ SINGH PATEL : I would like to know from the hon. Minister whether subscription charges would be collected from the subscriber or the Cable Operators would collect charges after passing of Cable Television Network (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2002. Until now, Doordarshan had been broadcasting only free- to-air channel. I want that the Government ask the broadcaster to display the rate of the channel they are broadcasting so that the subscriber could know as to who is charging more, the Channel Operator or the Cable Operator. It should be made clear to the subscriber as to which channel would be telecast free by Doordarshan and Cable Operators.

SHRI KIRIT SOMAIYA : I would like to submit that the Bill has been named as Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Bill but in fact, in addition to cable television, this Bill is also about Consumer Protection Act. The purport of this Bill is really good because we all know that the entire family watches the television programme together but there are certain channels or programmes which are not liked by all. This Bill intends to check such channels. In addition, there are certain unwanted television channels for which nobody wants to pay. With this Bill, we will be able to check such practices which will benefit the consumers. We want Star TV and Zee Channels to enter into the field of local TV channels. They get lot of revenue through advertisements. Even in this scenario, they want to burden the consumers. In fact, common man can never withstand the pressure of multinational companies. Therefore, the Minister should look into this matter.

The discussion on this subject was started in January, 2000. Many States have enacted laws in this regard. Many TV channels have started threatening that they will double the rates. I am grateful to Shri Bansal and Shri Dasmunsi for not referring this Bill to Standing Committee and getting it passed in Lok Sabha and the similar Bill is likely to be introduced in Rajya Sabha too. They had advocated checking the monopoly of private TV channels. Presently there are 3.8 million viewers of TV channels. I would like to know from the hon. Minister the profits earned by ESPN-Star Channel or Sports Channels in telecasting cricket matches. Doordarshan has got the rights of telecasting matches played in the country. I would like to know the revenue earned by Doordarshan in this regard. As per my information, Doordarshan is free to air, but even then, during the last two years, it earned handsome profits. I thank the hon. Minister for introducing such a nice Bill.

SHRI PRIYA RANJAN DASMUNSI : While introducing the Bill, the hon. Minister nicely putforth the objectives of this Bill and stated that the urgency for introducing the Bill is the need to safeguard the interest of consumers. Had the NDA Government been sensitive towards the issues concerning all sections of the society, it would have been really nice. The interest earned by pensioners is declining. The Government is not sensitive towards this thing. There are a large number of television viewers in the country and the Cable Operators revised the rates. I appreciate the steps taken by the hon. Minister in this regard. In 1995, but for Doordarshan, there was no other channel. However, in 1997, many channels jumped into the fray and spread their network all over the country. The Government did not pay attention towards the problems of the consumers during the last four years. All the provisions in the Bill are good but I would like to know the price of the Box which will be required.

Secondly, I would like to submit that anyone who opts for all pay channels will not be required to have Box. However, he will be required to pay for the Box. Doordarshan is the pride of the country. As the President of Football Federation, 4-5 years back, we had a tie-up with ESPN and Star. At that time, when we approached any sponsor, a question was asked that if we telecast on Doordarshan then, sponsorship money will not be given because the quality of programmes produced by Doordarshan is not good. It was stated that if we toe their line, then money will be given. At that juncture, a Doordarshan Officer requested us to opt for Doordarshan and leave the company of foreign TV channels in the name of patriotism. We annulled the tie-up, but half of the sponsors left on the excuse that their projection is not good. However, during the last six months, Doordarshan has made great strides and their quality has drastically improved. If this tempo continues then many people will jump on the Doordarshan band-wagon. As far as live telecast is concerned, Doordarshan Sports Channel’s coverage is limited and the marketing network is poor. Therefore, Doordarshan is not getting much the live-telecast programmes. There is a need to pay attention in this regard.

Till date, indirectly, Doordarshan is under the control of the Government. India is a vast country. Now, the Central Government will be armed with the powers to fix the rates of cable operators. I submit that the Government should directly control the things and not via Regulatory Authority. The hon. Minister must assure that after this amendment, the total subscription rate of free-to-air channels and all pay channels would not exceed the present subscription amount. I urge the hon. Minister that within the next 2-3 days a decision should be taken to telecast the Football World Cup matches for the first time, being held in Japan and Korea for the sports lovers.

SHRI S.S. PALANIMANICKAM : We wholeheartedly welcome the amendment Bill. The Government of India is well within its legislative powers to deal with and regulate cable television industry. The Union Government enacted the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 1995 in order to regulate the cable television networks throughout our country.
It is possible that without knowing the constitutional position regarding the subjects for legislation or the legislative competence with regard to the subject of communication, the State Government by mistake may venture upon legislation on Union subjects. In such circumstances, the Union Government should remind the State Governments of their obligation to ensure compliance with the laws made by the Parliament. When there is a Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act 1995, to regulate cable television network throughout India, should there be laws passed by the State Governments for the purpose of regulating cable television network? No such a situation will nullify the entire Constitution.

DR. RAGHUVANSH PRASAD SINGH : The Cable Television Network Bill is quite belated. In the country, 3.8 crore households are having cable TV connections. There are 30 thousand cable operators and 75 channels. Television has become quite popular and consumers are compelled to watch television. Common man wants to watch television. In rural areas, the rates of channels are high. Therefore, we request the Government that there must be a regulatory authority to check the goings on. If all the operators unite together, then what will be the fate of the consumers? Therefore, there is a need to strictly regulate things. All the channels want to make a fast buck. There is no restriction on them. Every effort should be made to check exploitation of consumers at the hands of operators.

SHRI SURESH RAMRAO JADHAV : The Government should get a survey undertaken to ascertain the number of viewers watching Government (Doordarshan) channels and the number of viewers watching private channels. Presently, the viewers are paying Rs.300 or more to the cable operators. Our country is poor and the paying capacity of the consumers is limited. Currently, the capitalists are having monopoly in the field of cable TV. This Bill must also take care of the interests of small cable operators. There is a need to check commercialization in this regard. Cable Operators must also have some social obligations to discharge. The network of private cable operators is limited to cities and talukas. In remote areas, cable TV has not made forays. There the people are still denied the facility of private channels. Therefore, a criteria must be laid down to extend the facility of cable TV to remote and rural areas.

SHRI PRABHUNATH SINGH : There is a need to address the issues pertaining to broadcasters, cable operators and consumers. The Bill introduced by the hon. Minister will protect the interest of consumers. It is mentioned in the Bill that all over the country, the cable operators will decide the rates to be paid by the consumers. I would like to know the reasons behind this and also the percentage of profit earned in this field. Further a limit in this regard should be fixed. An evaluation of the capital invested must also be undertaken. I favour fixing of different rates in different States on the basis of the sources of income. If the economic condition of any State is not good, then the economic condition of the consumers there will also not be good. In this scenario, I favour fixing of rates on the basis of economic condition of the States.

I would like to know the logic for burdening the consumers. They are business people. I would like to submit to the hon. Minister that the percentage of profit earned should be viewed seriously. The consumers doubly suffer. Therefore, we want that the consumers must not be burdened by the channels. Regarding entertainment channels, I would like to submit that consumers must be charged but in the case of rest of the channels, no charge should be taken from the consumers. After Box is introduced, there will be greater burden on the consumers. I urge the hon. Minister to see that the burden is not put on the consumers and at the same time, a monitoring mechanism is devised.

SHRi P.H. PANDIAN : The object of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2002 is to protect the interests of the consumers. The charges by cable television operators varies from place to place. At the same time, not all the consumers use all the channels. There was a reference that the Tamil Nadu Legislature has recently passed a Cable Television Network (Regulation)Bill which is waiting the Governor’s assent. I was having both the Central Government Bill and the State Government Bill and I was going through them. The Bill which the State Legislature has passed, regulates the licensing system whereas the Central Bill is to protect the interests of the consumers. There was no income to the State Government through Cable network. To facilitate the Government to overcome or tide over the poor economic condition, this was one avenue invented by the present Chief Minister. They monopolised the cable TV through political pressure. It is misuse of power. The Cable Television Networks Bill proposed by the Indian Government is a welcome measure. This law will protect the consumers’ interest.

DR. NITISH SENGUPTA : The cable industry has grown over the last 10 to 12 years and a very large number of people are employed. I think, this almost amounts to creating a new system of licensing. Much depends on how the bureaucracy will operate this system. Normally, control leads inevitably to some extent of corruption. The Minister should give an assurance that this will not be allowed to degenerate into a system where the inspectors or the operators can go to any house, can go to anybody, and dictate their terms and also make money. The Bill proposes to control things, like obscenity or too much of violence, sex and advertising some things which should not be done, are definitely welcome provisions of this Bill.

Technology is moving very fast. Digital system through optical fibre should become the order of the day in a very short while. I would also like to know whether the experience of other countries also have been taken into consideration or not. The Government should see to it that the present system which is already giving employment to a very large number of people in the country does not become a victim of a governmental system where a lot of the cable operators are compelled to close their shops and throw a lot of people into unemployment.

SHRI RAMDAS ATHAWALE : Ever since T.V. network has come up in the country, people are getting different information through it. The cable T.V. network is functioning smoothly in villages and towns but there is not that much control of Government on this network as required. T.V. cable network should not be allowed to enjoy so much freedom. Today, unequality is growing. As such suitable programmes are needed to be telecast on cable network. Terrorism is increasing in Kashmir today. It is being exhibited on T.V. channels. A lot was shown on T.V. network after the Godhra incident. The Government should have some control upon it. I feel that the Bill introduced by the hon. Minister is very good. However, you are not going to effect control by merely framing a law. I want to submit that T.V. functioning has commercial aspect, even though it should not work only for earning money. It should work towards some change for betterment in the society.

SHRI SATYAVRAT CHATURVEDI : The underlying spirit in the Bill intrdouced by the Government is that it has been observed in the last few years that a number of native and foreign channels have started collecting money from consumers in an arbitrary way. There is big chunk of such consumer in this country which have its own economic deprivation and limitations. The T.V. channels which are being telecast today, belong broadly to two categories. One is, educative and informative whereas on the other side, there are some channels which are basically meant for entertainment. Our society needs some entertainment channels which may provide healthy entertainment. The third type of channels is purely commercial. There are a number of channels which violate our cultural values and at times such programmes are telecast which can not be viewed sitting along with family. I just want to suggest that while utilising this power at the time of fixing remuneration, fees or subscription, it must be used as a deterrent weapon.

In the last few years, there has been a wide growth of sports activities. It has been observed that fees are hiked up by the channels immediately before the sports event takes place. For the last many years, cricket has been very popular in this country and matches are being played frequently. If commentary in Hindi could not be arranged for in case of Test Matches, it can atleast be introduced in One Day Matches, which are very popular now-a-days. This is not a difficult job. To end, I support this Bill.

THE MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND BROADCASTING (SHRIMATI SUSHMA SWARAJ) replying to the discussion, said: This discussion was initiated by Shri Pawan Kumar Bansal one behalf of the main opposition party. I thank him for welcoming this Bill and interference of the Government in the matter. Generally, the Government does not wish to interfere into such issues and such interference is also not liked much but when some issue becomes a problem, the Government cannot just keep on watching as a helpless spectator and keep mute. No sooner than this issue became a problem, we first of all talked to all stake holders and then formed a task force. This issue was not very simple nor was so to introduce the system in this way. I want to tell that when their recommendations came in and thereafter a number of members raised their points in this regard, we also thought over these issues and kept them before the task force. It would not have been appropriate to come in the House with this issue off hand till such time we got response. We conveyed all our concerns to CAS and the task force and requested them to respond.

We share the concern of the hon. Members. Therefore, instead of delaying, let us pass this Bill. I am very happy today that you appreciated it and the House has allowed the discussion upon it. I am grateful to you for this. The most important issue is that we are going to form a standard since this is analog set-top box and not digital set-top box. The country needs analog set-top box since all the channels which are transmitting digital signals to homes are also doing so by converting the signals into cable head enter analog. It is because, the T.V. sets which are there in our homes, receive analog signals instead of digital signals. So, in time to come, analog set-top box will become a commodity to be manufactured at places like Chandni Chowk and Lajpat Nagar. In fact, as I said, the real oppressed is the consumer. He is hit on both sides. Unwanted channels are transmitted in his home and money for every channel is charged from him. We are talking to pass this Bill so that we may save the consumer. Pawan ji wondered as to why channel rate is not fixed. As I said in the beginning, the Government does not generally interfere in to these things. Our conception was that after bread and butter, entertainment is also a type of food. Every man even the poorest of poor, after having his fill, feels that entertainment is his basic need. As such entertainment too is basic hunger of the individual. I said that the cable operator shall display a list to the effect as to which broadcaster is charging what amount of money on each pay channel. The rest shall depend upon choice. Any one who can afford and has interest can avail any channel he likes. We have tried to form a norm of providing maximum benefit to the common consumer through minimum intervention.

Shri Hannan Mollah raised some issues. He asked as to what will happen of fixing of the subscription. We are not going to fix rates for pay channels; we are only fixing rates of basic tier. After that is fixed, the basic tier shall provide a uniform rate in the particular town and the list of pay channels shall be displayed. The way of fixation of subscription should be transparent. The Government is not at all going to handle it in an arbitrary way and transparent method will be that. We shall be having only two aims and those are relief to the consumer and no loss to the cable operator.

One thing has been said that in case optic fibre comes in, everything shall become redundant. Even a single per cent of optic fibre has not been laid in our country. The issue is that the problem, which we are facing today, we need to treat it immediately. Let us wait for the optic fibre. As for technology, it becomes redundant everyday. A particular computer comes in and becomes outdated after three months which is replaced by a new one. One who has money, buys the new one. You cannot stop the fast speed of technology and that will not also be in the interest of the country.

As far as subscription is concerned, let me clarify that we are fixing the floor of the channels of basic tier, the number of channels and the ceiling of amount. I want to say that not only in different States but also in different districts and different towns this rate should be exclusively fixed since things vary at places. I want to impress upon you that this job of rate fixation will not be done without consultations with the State Governments. Although, broadcasting in itself is a union subject, yet we shall go in for consultations with the State Governments. We shall fix things only after collecting information from them so that these Governments are not by-passed. We have provided in this Bill that the cable operator shall display a list showing the rate of every pay channel. Shri Kirit Somaiya said that the name of this Bill should be changed into Consumer Protection Act. Perhaps, he felt that this Bill is one which is going to provide ample of protection to the consumers. But I want to tell him that we are not introducing a new Bill; we are merely effecting some amendments in the present Bill.

Doordarshan is not at all in Government control. It is functioning without any bias, openly and there is no Government grip upon it. As for Prasar Bharati, it is our baby and our greatest duty is to maintain its autonomy. Shri Satyavrat Chaturvedi said something about Hindi. Let there be no apprehension that Hindi shall be neglected. We are trying to encourage Hindi as far as possible through Media and Doordarshan.

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