Television

Prasad is spared the CAS test in Parliament

NEW DELHI: Information and Broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad got off comparatively lightly in the Lok Sabha today when the Opposition's bid to corner the government on conditional access system (CAS) came a cropper because of lack of time during question hour.

On a day when the question hour was dominated by issues related to ministries of external affairs and labour, the Opposition got less than ten minutes to question the government on CAS.

Things were made easy for the government when despite the Speaker's assertions on lack of time, an Opposition Member of Parliament insisted on reading out his question in detail taking up precious time.

Prasad got off by stating in the Lok Sabha that since a large number of television sets in the country and the metros are black and white, which cannot receive very many channels, the government thought it best to prescribe a minimum of 30 channels for the basic tier of free to air (FTA) channels.

Prasad further added that some multi-system operators (MSOs) have promised to provide up to 70 channels as part of the basic tier, which is a welcome step. This way, even the rich and the not so rich would have a choice of channels.

However, Prasad admitted that lack of adequate number of set-top boxes (STBs) led the government to postpone the rollout of CAS to 1 September from the earlier deadline of 14 July. To make things easier, an area-wise implementation would be adhered to.

DATA SHOWS 50,000 BOXES CLEARED BY CUSTOMS

Meanwhile, in written replies to fellow parliamentarians on CAS, Prasad clarified that the industry and not the government will be importing the STBs.

"As per the data furnished by the Customs and Central Excise authorities, 50,050 STBs have been imported by various MSOs/cable operators as on 16 July, 2003," Prasad informed the Lok Sabha, adding that according to the data given by the industry, orders for "large volumes" of boxes have been placed and these are expected to arrive in a phased manner in the next few months.

Dwelling on the indigenous manufacturing of the boxes, Prasad said that local industry is "yet to gear up fully since technology deployed is quite new" and the momentum would pick up slowly with tax sops having been extended by the government.

Assuring the policy makers in the Lower House of Parliament that the government is monitoring the arrival of boxes in the country, Prasad said, "Visits are (being) made to head-ends to assess the level of preparedness and test check of boxes has also commenced to ensure that the boxes conform to the standards published by the Bureau of Indian Standards."

CONNIVANCE DENIED

Replying to queries raised by 11 parliamentarians on the government proposal to introduce CAS "in connivance with STB manufacturing companies," Prasad in a written reply denied such charges.

"The implementation of CAS was considered only in consumer interest. The representatives of the Consumer Electronics and Television Manufacturers' Association (CETMA), who represent the indigenous industry, were consulted at different times," Prasad said.

According to the minister, CETMA and some manufacturers had appealed for reduction in duty on import of components required for manufacturing boxes, which has been rationalised by the government.

On a query on outdated technology being imported in the name of "digital boxes (MPEG-2)," Prasad informed the Lok Sabha that, the compression standard used worldwide for commercial digital TV broadcast across all delivery platforms like cable, satellite and terrestrial is MPEG-2. However, MPEG-4 is not used for commercial TV broadcast.

"Bureau of Indian Standards has adopted the international cable TV standards known as DVB-C and DVB-CSA, which are based on MPEG-2 technology. These are widely in use and not out dated," the minister said.

72 FTA & 49 CHANNELS IN INDIA

According to the government, there are, at present, 49 pay channels and 72 FTA channels including 26 Doordarshan channels available in India.

The list laid on the tables in Lok Sabha states that channels like Star News are FTA and would be part of the basic tier, as also NDTV India and NDTV 24x7, which will be "FTA on the date of CAS implementation."

The list also gives the prices of individual channels as had been indicated by the broadcasters.

CHANNEL-WISE PRICE LIST

Channel    Individual price (Rs)    Bouquet price (Rs)

Gemini TV    10     

Teja TV    5     

Sun News    5     

KTV    12     

SCV    3     

Action TV    7     

MAA TV    5     

B4U Movies    10     

ESPN    29    32

Star Sports    29    32

Raj TV    10    14

Raj Digital Plus    10    14

Star Plus    24     

Star Gold    10     

Vijay TV    10     

NGC    10     

Star World    14     

Adventure One    4     

Channel V    8     

CNBC    20     

Zee TV    25     

Zee Cinema    20     

Cartoon Network    20     

Alpha channels    15 each     

Zee News    10     

Trendz    10     

Reality    5     

Hallmark    12     

Ten Sports    14     

Sony    20     

HBO    14     

SET Max    14     

AXN    10     

Discovery English    10     

Discovery Hindi    10     

Animal Planet    4     

Surprisingly the government list puts the cost of channels called Less TV at Rs 72, while Ten Sports' cost is Rs 14 and Hallmark's Rs 12.

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