CAS awaits Presidential nod

NEW DELHI : The path has been paved and the first hurdle crossed as far as bringing addressability in Indian cable homes is concerned. But before the rollout starts, there are some rivulets to be crossed.The presidential assent to the Cable TV (Network) Regulation Amendment Bill 2002 has still not come through.

This is important, as unless it happens, the amendments cannot be notified in the official gazette to be enacted into a law. 

Government officials have termed the assent from the President of India a "routine matter" as the head of the country has seldom turned down such requests, except on occasions when it was thought the government should have another look at the policy decision.

"The presidential assent was expected last week (last year , that is) as part of a routine exercise after which we would have got the amendments notified in the Gazette to make it official," a senior information and broadcasting ministry official told this morning.

However, the official also pointed out that there was nothing much to worry as the CAS issue is not a sensitive one where the President is likely to ask the government to have another look before enacting into a law. "The President keeps a busy schedule and if not today, the assent would soon come," the official said optimistically, adding, "Since lot of bills had been passed in the last session of Parliament, files must have piled up at the President's office." 

In the meanwhile, the government is more or less gearing up to the fact that the rollout of CAS would start happening around May-June. The ministry official, when asked about the feedback from the MSOs on CAS rollout did admit, "Most of the big ones (like Siticable, Hathway, INCablenet and RPG) have indicated that it cannot be done before April-May. It's fine by us as by then, we'd have finalised the price of the basic tier of free to air channels too."

The next impediment to the smooth rollout of CAS can be the pricing of the basic tier. While the government - as I&B minister Sushma Swaraj has indicated - would like to keep the price of the basic tier below Rs 100 per month per home, inclusive of local taxes, some of the cable operators feel that such a price would be too low. A figure of Rs 125 is something which they have been looking at, considering the investments that would have to be made in the upgradation of cable head-ends.

Here again, there is a difference of opinion. While big MSOs like Siticable are not much bothered about the pricing of the basic tier of service, it is the big independent cable operators who feel a very cheap basic tier will spoil their business.

Adding to the complex scenario - remember the issue of availability of adequate number of set-top boxes is still to be sorted out - is Siti Cable's claims that it would go in for a conditional access in digital mode and, if allowed, via the head-end in the sky (HITS) project which envisages uplinking TV channels in an encrypted form from a master control room after which cable operators can just downlink the signals for re-transmission on their respective networks.

It is also interesting to see that Siticable in its feedback to the I&B ministry has clearly said that the government should look at reducing or rationalising the customs duties on import of set-top boxes. A fact which is an indication that MSOs are looking at importing STBs initially rather than depend on manufacturing to begin in India.

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