Centre, state play ping-pong with CAS

NEW DELHI: The federal government has thrown the CAS ball back into the state's court by saying, it would be unwarranted to conclude that the Union government is not fully aware of its responsibilities regarding cable addressability.

However, information and broadcasting (I&B) minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has also said that the Central and the state governments have to work together.

"I am of the clear view that in implementation of CAS, the state and the Central government have to work together. With this view, I have written letters to the chief ministers of Maharashtra and West Bengal," Prasad conveyed to Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit in a letter dated 18 December. 

This was in response to Dixit's comments to the ministry yesterday that the confusion regarding CAS not only persists, but has also increased.

Rubbishing the charge that "confusion about CAS has increased manifold", Prasad said, "I would like to reiterate that we share these concerns (CAS is anti-consumer, there are differential pricing of set-top boxes, etc) and have taken steps to protect consumer interests in the implementation of CAS."

According to Prasad's letter, (a copy of which has obtained), "There is no question of arbitrary fixation of charges as the cost of free-to-air channels has been mandated by law at Rs 72 per month, plus taxes. The pricing of pay channels has been left to broadcasters and MSOs and these will be determined by market forces."

In a reply pointing out that from the time CAS was deferred in the Capital till today, the state has not done much to make it work (like interactions with consumer bodies and the industry), Prasad stated, "There is no reason to presume that there will be steep increase in these (the prices of channels) or that consumers will be kept in the dark about what they have to pay."

Yesterday, Dixit had said in a letter to Prasad, "Basic questions like why do we need CAS and STBs still remain a mystery to the common man."

Pointing out that a step that was taken to rein in the undisciplined cable industry has boomeranged on the "poor consumer", the Delhi CM has said that "agitated" consumer associations have been meeting her as they are not convinced about the need to introduce CAS.

She had also tried to highlight that the Union government had not done proper ground work on CAS saying, "While we continue our efforts to safeguard interests of the consumers, the Union ministry of I&B should immediately launch a full-fledged consumer awareness programme involving consumer groups and citizens' associations."

Meanwhile, as the Centre and state continue playing ping-pong with CAS, a cautious cable fraternity continues pushing the STBs even while giving popular channels to non-CAS enabled homes too.

Though the biggest multi-system operator (MSO) in the country told the Delhi government today that over 20,000 boxes have been seeded in the market, cable industry insiders maintained that about 10,000 boxes would have either been installed or orders placed with cable ops.

CAS Implementation Panel meet

The Delhi government's panel on CAS rollout met here and heard the issues raised by everybody, including consumer activists and MSOs today.

The two consumer activists (form Consumer Coordination Council and VOICE) maintained that there is complete chaos in the market and there is no awareness about CAS as confusion reigns supreme.

On their part, the cable industry - represented by Siti Cable head Jawahar Goel and Hathway's president (operations) for North India, S N Sharma, amplified the fact that the industry is doing its bit by bringing out ads in newspapers like Punjab Kesari and Navbharat Times (to be followed over the next few days in some other dailies of Delhi) on CAS-related questions.

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