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Cable ops reject Rs 71.33 FTA rate; threaten widespread stir

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NEW DELHI: The Russian roulette being played out involving the pricing of the basic tier of free to air channels appears to be coming to an end. Finally.

The government-piloted task force on conditional access, in all probability, is likely to recommend to the government a revised rate of Rs 71.33 (exclusive of taxes) as the price of the basic tier, which has the support of a majority of the panel members.

The new figure was put to vote in a task force meeting here today.

The cable operators have decried the revised rate, dubbing it pro-broadcaster and threatened to stir up things, including seeking legal redressal.

ESS OPPOSES NEW RATE; BACKS Rs 45.90 FOR FTA: ESPN-Star Sports (ESS) is said to have opined at the task force meet today that the new rate is not acceptable to it and would give preference to an earlier rate of Rs 45.90. While there was no official word on Star India's stand on the issue, it stands to reason that it would be the same as that put forth by ESS.

According to information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry officials, the endeavour of the task force chairman (Rakesh Mohan, joint secretary, broadcasting, I&B ministry) would be to prepare its report and submit it "as soon as possible" for the government to take a final view on the price of the basic tier, before it is made public.

Indiantelevision.com learns from task force sources that a majority of the panel members supported the revised rate churned out by finance ministry officials, while a few did not agree or disagree with the new figure.

When the revised rate of Rs 71.33 per month per subscriber for the basic tier was put to vote through 'agree' and `disagree', according to the sources, those who agreed included CETMA, the apex body electronics goods manufacturers in India, Siti Cable, INCablenet, Sahara TV's Mahesh Prasad (representing the free to air channels), Zee Telefilms, Sun TV's parent company Sumangli and a consumer activist from Chennai.

Those who disagreed, of course, included the independent cable operators as they said a low rate for the basic tier would make their business unviable. According to Rakesh Dutta, general secretary of Cable Networks' Association, "The cable operators now have no option left, but to seek legal redressal and blackout cable services. In this fight, we would get the support of other cable organisations too."

However, industry observers feel that knocking on the doors of the court on the proposed rate of the basic tier, as and when it is made official, is highly unlikely to give cable operators major relief as the cable fraternity is more divided than united on such issues. For example, different cable ops' organisations have zeroed down on different figures for the basic tier.

WOULD BASIC TIER PRICE BE UNIFORM COUNTRYWIDE?

That is a million-dollar question.

In the event that the government accepts the task force recommendation of Rs 71.33 per month per subscriber as the price of the basic tier, in all the metros the basic tier will not cost the same to subscribers.

The reason being that the local taxes, like the entertainment tax, that is to be added to this figure differs from state to state and the Central government cannot mandate a uniform rate, something that is being demanded by the entertainment industry from the government for long.

So, for example, in Delhi the basic tier is likely to cost Rs 94.33 (entertainment tax+5% service tax) per month where the entertainment tax is levied at 20 per cent. In Mumbai, the basic tier may be more costly as the entertainment tax is higher at 30 per cent.

Keep tuned in for more on this seemingly never-ending CAS saga.

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