Govt nervous, but insists CAS on schedule in remaining 3 cities

NEW DELHI: An air of uncertainty hangs over the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry as the cities, where conditional access system (CAS) is to be introduced from 1 September, are seeking deferment of the rollout.

The chain reaction has come after the Indian government announced that implementation of CAS in Delhi was being deferred in the light of the state elections due in October.

While pointing out that, as of today, the ministry is going ahead with CAS rollout in Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai from 1 September, in the absence of any formal word on it from the higher echelons of the government, officials admitted that "nothing could be said with certainty".

A senior I&B ministry official indicated that various bureaucrats of the West Bengal government have sought deferment of CAS in Kolkata too, while seeking clarifications from the I&B ministry.

Yesterday, additional secretary in the I&B ministry Vijay Singh and joint secretary in the ministry Rakesh Mohan had gone to Kolkata to discuss CAS. Incidentally, on the same day Mumbai's Shiv Sena issued a fatwa against CAS, claiming that it was anti-consumer and hence not to be rolled out in the city, unless done so in Delhi too.

Still, according to government officials, the MSOs have maintained that the demand for set-top boxes has been okay, if not enthusiastic.

A further deferment of CAS would result in "loss of credibility" for the government, especially when around Rs 3,000 million is said to have been invested by the industry in CAS-related infrastructure -- all at the insistence of the government, the officials admitted.

Asked if the government was prepared for the expected backlash from the cable industry in the wake of deferment in Delhi, and the anticipated one in Mumbai, the officials replied in the negative.

When queried as to how it would respond if cable operators in Delhi raised subscription fees to over Rs 400 per month from the current Rs 150 to Rs 200, a senior I&B ministry official said, "If the situation requires it, the government could take steps and arm itself."

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