Government hints CAS not so consumer friendly

NEW DELHI: It took the Indian government and bureaucrats almost six months to realise that conditional access system may not turn out to be as consumer friendly as had been earlier envisaged by the country's policy-makers when the amendments to the related Acts were steam-rolled through Parliament by the coalition federal government late last year.

"I don't have an answer...(but) I don't think so now," a senior government official today reluctantly admitted before journalists when asked whether the government still thinks that CAS would turn out to be as beneficial for the consumers, especially in the face of opposition and criticism from various quarters, including political, and the teething problems that are surfacing as the 14 July deadline draws near. However, the official hurriedly went on clarify that once the teething problems are overcome and the set-top boxes are properly seeded in the market, CAS may start yielding the benefits for which it was being sought to be implemented.

But, the whole supposition of the government hinges on a big "IF". The government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also hinted that the price of Rs. 72 for the basic tier of free to air channels is not so sacrosanct and may see some changes being effected in it. If the dual illumination mode is adopted for a phased rollout of CAS, including zone-wise or area-wise implementation in a city, then the basic tier's effectiveness and concept is nullified. learns from industry sources that at yesterday's meeting the broadcasters had with I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, it was suggested the price of the basic tier should be further brought down from Rs. 72 (exclusive of taxes) to below Rs. 50 (almost a dollar) level. Though the minister did not give any categorical assurance on the issue, he is reported to have said that the matter would be looked into.

Cable operators reject Dual Illumination theory

The government official also went on to add that the cable operators, who met the information and broadcasting ministry officials as also Prasad today, categorically stated that dual illumination would not be technically feasible as the existing infrastructure that most cable operators have at their disposal is not capable to take overloads that may result because of dual illumination of channels wherein a channel would be beamed in FTA and also pay mode.

Earlier in the day, when a delegation of the cable operators met Prasad, he attempted to allay their fears on dual illumination saying it was only a suggestion that was being studied by the government. After the meeting, Prasad, who generally loves to speak to the media, spoke briefly and left. "The government is in constant touch with the cable operators (on the CAS issue and its implementation) and is trying to ensure a smooth rollout of CAS," the minister said, adding that the cable ops and MSOs are an important part of the industry.

Still, after talking to a few cable ops, who had gone to meet officials and the minister, it became clear the government had very few answers to their query, is still groping in the dark and to most of questions had a stock reply: we are studying it or it is not final, but is under consideration.

It is also learnt that one of the cable ops today conveyed to the additonal secretary (broadcasting) in the I&B ministry, Vijay Singh, that all the suggestions being studied by the government are to "protect the interests" of certain broadcasters. The cable operators, who have threatened a hefty increase in the cable susbcription fee if CAS is not implemented from 14 July, have also submitted a memorandum to the government today.

Meanwhile, Zee Telefilms will submit the prices of its channels tomorrow. Zee Turner CEO Sunil Khanna told today evening, "We will convey the prices tomorrow and would try to be more rationale (than Star )."

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