Television

CAS deferred in Delhi; future tense elsewhere

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: CAS has crashed out! Almost. And the frustration of a section of a disappointed industry was echoed by Hathway Datacom?s vice-president (North India) SN Sharma when he told indiantelevision.com, 

"There are breaking news, but this is heart-breaking news."



With the Indian government today deciding to defer the implementation of the conditional access system (CAS) in Delhi till the state elections are held later this year, the future of its rollout from 1 September in other metros like Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, too, has become uncertain.

Coming out of a high-level meeting, which can be termed a mini-cabinet meet, information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "It has been decided to defer implementation of CAS in Delhi till the elections." Though Prasad attempted to put up a brave front saying CAS was a "consumer friendly" initiative, he did admit, it has "become an election issue."

Reiterating that in other metros CAS would be sought to be implemented as scheduled, Prasad said, "Because of competitive politics we would not be able to implement CAS in Delhi." The elections are yet to be notified in Delhi.

When asked, how will the government convince opponents of CAS like Shiv Sena in Mumbai on a 1 September rollout, Prasad said that the government would speak to Sena supremo Bal Thackeray and try to "convince" him on a timely rollout and the resultant benefits that would accrue to cable consumers.

Prime minister AB Vajpayee, deputy prime minister LK Advani, finance minister Jaswant Singh and senior ruling Bharatiya Janata party member VK Malhotra, attended today?s meeting, amongst others.

But today?s meeting was an almost foregone conclusion. At least in the capital city. Another senior BJP member Madan Lal Khurana, who is making a grab for the chief ministership of Delhi later this year in the elections, had told journalists late last week categorically that CAS would be deferred in Delhi. Prasad, then, had refused to be drawn into a detailed comment.

Though Prasad was mum on exactly what happened inside during the meeting, government sources said that Khurana almost started sobbing that unless CAS was deferred in Delhi, he?d resign from the party, even while Prasad tried to resist such emotional blackmailing. But he had to succumb to the "wishes of the elders.

Still Prasad admitted: "CAS became an unnecessary hot political property when all along we had said it?ll be a consumer friendly initiative."

At a Hathway function last week, in Delhi where the MSO announced the formal launch of its digital conditional access infrastructure, I&B ministry secretary Pawan Chopra, apart from saying that everything relating to CAS was in God?s hand. Words that have turned prophetic!



Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea

Chopra had also remarked at the function, attended by Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea, that pay channels would be allowed to do their pricing. This, in a way, indicated the failure of the government to make pay channels toe the line of consumer-friendly low pricing of pay channels after making assertions to this regard many times.



INDUSTRY UPSET, BUT CAUTIOUSLY GUARDED

Today evening, when contacted by indiantelevision.com, a guarded Mukerjea said, "The government decision (to delay implementation of CAS in Delhi) would give the industry a chance to consolidate and prepare better for introducing new technology as and when CAS is rolled out."



Zee Telefilms VC Jawahar Goel

But Zee Telefilms vice-chairman Jawahar Goel was not so guarded. "The industry has to sit together and chart out a future course of action, which includes implementing CAS on our own and some political boycotts too."

He also indicated that one of the options before the cable industry is to hike the price of the monthly cable subscription.

INCableNet COO Rajiv Vyas

INCableNet COO Rajiv Vyas expressed his disappointment by saying: "We see no reason why CAS should have been postponed in Delhi. We have complied with the ministry's instructions and good intentions; invested crores of rupees on CAS; and prepared the franchisee cable operators too. Finally, the consumer will lose out and will be affected the most - even in the short term. Pay channel rates are likely to be raised soon and the consumer will have to bear the brunt of this. All the advantages envisaged for the consumer in the CAS scenario will come to nought!"

Another supporter of CAS, National Cable & Telecom Association president Vickky Chowdhry, said, "The government decision is totally surprising and politicians like Khurana have played into the hands of pay broadcasters."

While speaking to indiantelevision.com, Shiv Sena Vibhag Pramukh, CODA spokesperson and Dattatray Cable proprietor Anil Parab said, "Using the excuse of elections, the government has deferred CAS in Delhi. But, the government proposes to conduct the 'experiment' in the Mumbai market. All the cable operators affiliated to CODA (cable operators and distributors association) will be meeting tomorrow to take a decision."

All eyes on Mumbai's cable operators and the Shiv Sena now!

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