CAS bill gets Presidential nod

NEW DELHI: The last legislative requirement as far as bringing addressability in Indian cable homes has been cleared. President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam yesterday gave his assent to the Cable TV (Network) Regulation Amendment Bill 2002 along with three other Bills that were cleared by Parliament during its last session.

The amendments can now be notified in the official gazette so as to be enacted into law. All that remains now is for the government (read the information and broadcasting ministry) to announce the cost (which ministry officials say is in the Rs sub-100 range) of the basic tier of channels as well as the minimum number of channels that will have to be included in it. That is the work of the costing committee headed by joint secretary broadcasting in the I&B ministry Rakesh Mohan.

The government is more or less gearing up to the fact that the rollout of CAS would start happening around May-June at the earliest. A ministry official, when asked earlier about the feedback from the MSOs on CAS rollout did admit, "Most of the big ones (like Zee Group cable arm Siticable, the Star-affiliated 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 would like to keep the price of the basic tier below Rs 100 per month per home, inclusive of local taxes, some 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. Sources in Siticable say STBs sourced out of Taiwan and other far East countries can be got within $ 45. These boxes while not being of very high quality are adequate for Indian conditions, they say. As to what the cost to Indian consumers would be, accounting for duties and landing costs, it would be in the Rs 4,000 to Rs 4,500 range they say.

Well, the CAS die is now officially cast and now it is for the industry to act on it.

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