CAS ball back in government court after HC quashes Delhi denotification

NEW DELHI / MUMBAI: This may just give a shot in the arm of a certain section of the cable industry lobbying hard for the implementation of addressability in the metros of Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai. More so because the government today stated in Parliament that it has "no time frame" for uniform implementation of conditional access system (CAS).



In a long-awaited order, the Delhi high court today quashed a Central government notification deferring the implementation of conditional access system (CAS) for cable TV in Delhi indefinitely on account of the assembly elections.

A division bench comprising Chief Justice BC Patel and Justice AK Sikri took the decision.

The court had reserved its order on 25 September after conclusion of arguments by Additional Solicitor General KK Sud, representing the Central government and former Attorney General Harish Salve, appearing for the petitioners (Zee Telefilms cable arm Siti Cable, the Delhi-based Cable Networks Association and two individuals - Arvind Gupta and Joy Polychem).

The petitioners had sought legal redressal against deferment of CAS in the national capital region of Delhi.

The order comes a day ahead of a meeting where representatives from various MSOs are slated to meet officials from the information and broadcasting ministry on the CAS issue.

A visibly pleased vice chairman of Zee Telefilms and head of Siti Cable, Jawahar Goel, told after the court ruling, "It is nice that the judiciary still understands things in the right perspective. This order would not only help our cause, but may also have a bearing on similar cases (relating to CAS) filed in Kolkata and Mumbai."

Goel also explained that the order would mean that the cable operators can charge in the South Delhi areas increased subscription money from cable subscribers and start pushing set-top boxes.

However, he refused to divulge a roadmap ahead, saying that it would depend on the outcome of the meeting that MSOs have with the ministry.

SET India CEO Kunal Dasgupta reacted cautiously to the development saying, "Let's wait and see what is the next move the government will take."

The government had said in an order dated 29 August that it was deferring CAS implementation in Delhi as it did not want the consumer-friendly scheme to be made an election issue. Besides, its officials, busy in poll related work, would be unavailable for the implementation and enforcement of CAS.

It had also argued that the public was not yet fully aware of the new technology.

The petitioners, on the other hand said, had argued they had invested millions of rupees on setting up infrastructure for a post-Cas regime and in the light of the deferment, the cable industry in Delhi had to take a huge financial hit.

A section of the Delhi cable operators had also opposed setting Rs 72 (excluding local taxes) as the minimum charge for the free to air channels and had demanded Rs 180 instead.

Meanwhile, information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today told Lok Sabha (Lower House) that "no time frame can be indicated for its (CAS') uniform implementation."

Even as Prasad struck a less than enthusiastic note in Parliament on CAS, the reactions from the cable fraternity were mixed. Representatives of the MSOs were jubilant, but the last mile operators were not so enthusiastic.

Reacting to the news, Coda (Cable Operators and Distributors Association) president and proprietor of Dattatray Cable Anil Parab pointed out that a mere renotification did not necessarily mean that CAS would come about in New Delhi. Referring to the situation in Mumbai, Parab said CAS was technically in force in the city but the ground reality was totally the opposite. Parab stressed that for CAS to become a success, the ground-level operators would have to be first convinced.

Parab however did concede that, "If they manage to make it (CAS) a success in Delhi, then we are ready to follow." Parab was responding to a point raised by that court intervention had led to implementation of environmentally friendly laws in the capital despite opposition from the ground. This was with specific reference to the ruling came about that made it mandatory that that public transport vehicles in the capital had to run on CNG as too the directive to move polluting industrial units away from the vicinity of the Taj Mahal monument.

The MSOs, meanwhile, were the most visibly relieved by the news. Star India backed MSO Hathway Cable & Datacom's CEO K Jayaraman said, "The smiles are back on our faces." Added Jayaraman, "We are ready to roll out CAS at any time as our (set top) boxes are all in place. We'll go ahead and implement CAS in Delhi as soon as we get the government go-ahead."

HTMT group director and CTO KV Seshasayee, who is overall in charge of Hinduja Group MSO INCableNet, said, "It's a big relief. We have all been waiting for this. The court's ruling will get the process going for some orderly conduct within the industry. This will free the customer from the whims and fancies of all in the indutry, whether it be broadcaster, MSO or cable operator."

Speaking about INCableNet's readiness to launch CAS, Seshasayee said, "We are not only ready and waiting to launch CAS, we are also ready to launch new customer friendly services like pay per view, video on demand, etc."

An issue that had appeared dead and buried suddenly seems to have got some oxygen pumped in. Whether this air is artificial or the real thing is the big question though.

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