Govt says firm on new CAS deadline, miffed with MSOs over lack of rollout readiness

NEW DELHI: It is not just the pay broadcasters that the government sees as at fault over the mess that is CAS.

The government is miffed with the multi-system operators who, it thinks, had mislead the government as to their preparedness for conditional access system rollout. But criticisms and opposition to CAS, notwithstanding, the Indian government is pushing ahead with the revised rollout plan of 1 September. At present.

A source close to information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the present imbroglio would not have happened had the MSOs been upfront about their own preparations and the availability of set-top boxes.

It is learnt that the government feels that the MSOs are equally, if not more than the pay broadcasters, to blame for the quagmire that CAS has sunk into. "While assuring that adequate number of boxes would be in by the D-day (14 July), it was found out quite late in the day that assurances had not converted into reality," the source said, adding the government had no option but to announce a revised rollout plan.

It was evident at yesterday's meeting at the Prime Minister's Office where Prasad is also understood to have said that all the stakeholders of the industry, including the government, stand to gain from CAS, taking a cue from the Morgan Stanley report on CAS that had published a few days back. But Prasad reportedly pointed out that some stakeholders had played hookey.

The government is trying to see that CAS does not become a contentious issue in the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament and it is not put on the dock by the Opposition parties. Some of the government's allies like the Shiv Sena and some state governments like Delhi have already opposed implementation of CAS.

At the bottom of most of these opposition is the availability (or the lack of it) of set-top boxes. For example, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit told the Indian broadcasters who met her yesterday that her opposition stems from the fact that without boxes available, a large section of Delhiites may not be able to get their daily dose of television viewing. Additionally Dikshit has taken the stand that the rentals of the boxes (Re 1 a month and Rs 999 deposit) are still too high.

Prasad got off easily on Monday since he did not have to verbally reply to fellow parliamentarians on CAS as other issues took centre-stage. The next test could be on Thursday. Prasad has to field several questions in the Lower House or Lok Sabha as also face privilege motion and calling attention motions on CAS later.

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