Cable TV

Cable ops divided on opposition to Rs 72 FTA rate

NEW DELHI: On one side the smiles have broadened, while on the other side the scowls have deepened.



Broadcasters, specially those managing pay channels, may have reasons to smile amidst tensions since late last week when the government finalised the rate of the basic tier of free to air cable channels at Rs 72 per month, 67 paise more than what had been recommended by task force on conditional access. Some cable operators, on the other hand, have definitely got busy with legalities to find loopholes in the relevant rules so as to move the court.

A notification to this effect is now expected soon, though till late in the evening government sources had no idea when the notification would be finally issued that would formalise the price of the basic tier. Information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told journalists in Chennai late last week that his ministry has cleared the price of the basic tier at Rs 72.

Though broadcasters are tightlipped on the developments --- there's an Indian Broadcasting Foundation meeting tomorrow here after which more information may tumble out --- a section of cable operators are almost up in arms.

Cable Networks Association's Rakesh Dutta, Cable Operators Federation of India's Roop Sharma (both members of the task force on CAS) and Vicky Chowdhry of the National Cable and Telecom Association may not have much love lost amongst them, but on one issue today they are unanimous: the price of Rs 72 for the basic tier is too low and that some legal action may have to be taken.

Speaking to from Kolkata, Sharma, one of the oldest leaders of cable ops though she is no more a cable operator herself anymore, said, "We are exploring all options, including seeking legal redressal on the issue."

Sharma added that she has organised a symposiums and meet in Kolkata today and tomorrow after which a similar thing would be done in Mumbai too to awaken the cable ops to their fundamental right to carry on a business to earn a livelihood, which would become difficult if the government sticks to its stand on Rs 72 per month per household for the basic tier of cable service.

Both Dutta and Chowdhry also added that they are consulting lawyers to study the ground on which the pricing issue can be challenged in court. This may include the confusion that still prevails over set-top boxes and their availability, despite assertions to the contrary made by the likes of Siti Cable's Jawahar Goel.

However, there is also a section of cable operators that feels no step should be taken that would delay the implementation of CAS, which is in "national interest."

"Moving courts on CAS may be playing into the hands of those vested interest who are trying to delay its rollout," AK Rastogi, an independent cable operator in Delhi, who also runs an industry cable magazine called Avishkar, said.

Meanwhile, the broadcasters would meet tomorrow under the aegis of the IBF to chalk out an action plan (related to CAS, of course) for a meeting some broadcasters have sought with a parliamentary panel day after tomorrow.

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