Swaraj sets 6 month timeline for CAS rollout

NEW DELHI: India's information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj today asserted that the rollout of conditional access in the first phase should be done by 14 July, six months from the date of notification of the amendments relating to CAS in the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.

In a meeting with multi-system operators and cable operators today (reported earlier by, the minister conveyed that the government has done its job - it is trying to get the notification out today itself - and now it is for the industry to respond suitably by getting its act in order.

In the meeting, attended by 20-odd people from the cable fraternity, Swaraj also asserted that the process for acquiring hardware for the rollout of CAS should be started, while simultaneously the costing committee, headed by Rakesh Mohan, joint secretary (broadcasting) in the I&B ministry, would decide the pricing of the basic tier of free to air channels as also the minimum number of channels to be included in the basic tier.

"The industry should start looking out for hardware and tie-up other issues, as the costing of the basic tier of service would be finalized simultaneously," Swaraj is reported to have told the representatives of the MSOs and cable operators.

"The minister looked very positive and is upbeat about CAS implementation. The industry will have to act swiftly and not indulge in dilly-dallying," a senior representative of an MSO told after the meeting.

Added Vicky Chowdhry, president of National Cable & Telecom Association, "The minister made her mind clear in no uncertain terms that by mid July, CAS should start getting implemented in the four metros, if not more cities - an issue which the government is examining whether such a mandate is implementable as additional cities will mean more set-top-boxes(STBs)."

Those who attended the meeting included representatives from Hathway, Siti Cable, RPG, INCablenet/HTMT, Ortel and Sun Network which runs cable networks in some cities of South India, apart from a clutch of big independent cable operators like Rakesh Dutta and Roop Sharma.

Swaraj also assured the cable fraternity that she has petitioned the finance minister to go in for a duty reduction on import of STB components in his next Budget slated to be announced on February 28.

"The minister said that the government is looking at the possibility of making the duty reductions effective much before 1 March," one of those who attended the meeting said. However, the industry, by and large, does not foresee this happening before the Budget. 

Though the minister was in a `talking' mood, according to those who were at the meeting, she also spent some time listening to various issues that were brought up by the cable operators.

One cable operator is reported to have suggested that in the interim, till CAS rollout is started, the government should mandate that the pay channels would not increase their prices - an issue which is niggling the cable fraternity as it fears Sony Entertainment TV may push up its price as the days draw closer to the World Cup cricket at South Africa.

Another cable operator is reported to have asked what happens in a scenario where he has got his hardware in place for the rollout of CAS and most pay channels turn free to air. Yet another person in the meeting brought up the issue of cartelisation where broadcasters, who also have interest in cable distribution, may give preferential treatment to cable subscribers of their cable associate a post-CAS regime. 

Star India has a 26 per cent stake in the Rajan Raheja-controlled Hathway, while the biggest MSO in the country Siti Cable is a subsidiary of Zee Telefilms. To such and many other suggestions and observations, Swaraj is understood to have said redressal can be had from other organizations like MRTPC in case of cartelisation and preferential treatment.

Now comes the big question: how prepared is the industry to rollout CAS within the designated period? The industry is unanimous that initially STBs have to be imported and brought into the country in SKD (semi-knocked down) form to be assembled here.

"If we presume that the four metros where CAS is being sought to be implemented in the first phase has five-odd million C&S homes, then even if 25 per cent of this number goes in for STBs, it'd mean good business, " a senior executive of Siti Cable said. 

It is estimated that amongst the four metros, Mumbai has the highest number of C&S homes (about 2.3 million), followed by the likes of Delhi ( 1.2 million) and Kolkata (about one million). It has also been pointed out that delivery of STBs could be had between six to eight weeks from the date of placing the order. The likes of Siti Cable and Hathway are already in buying mode, it is learnt.

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