Prasad meets PM, asserts CAS rollout deadline stands but softens tone

NEW DELHI: The 14 July deadline for rollout of conditional access system (CAS) stands, the government said today, though it is trying to tone down the stridency in its approach.

"The Prime Minister told me that the government should ensure that the (cable) consumers don't end up paying higher (in a post-CAS regime) than what they are paying now," information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told waiting journalists outside Atal Behari Vajpayee's residence after a meeting with the PM today evening.

Asked what would be the price that the government thinks consumers are paying at present for their cable TV service, Prasad said, "The average would be between Rs 150-350."

Upping of the limit to Rs 350 is an indicator of the fact that the government is attempting to soften what was earlier seen as a rigid stance on pricing. Prasad had earlier said that pay channels, along with the basic tier, would cost the consumers around Rs 200.

Reiterating that the deadline of 14 July for CAS implementation in the four metros stands and has got the backing of the Prime Minister, Prasad, however, again appealed to all the stakeholders of the industry, including the broadcasters, to facilitate a smooth transition to a CAS regime wherein the consumer would be king.

"I am aware of my powers in law, (but) I'll again appeal to broadcasters to be consumer friendly," Prasad said, adding that if the consumers are happy, then the broadcasters too would be happy.

"The law is very clear that if by the deadline (14 July) pay channels don't declare their prices, they go off the TV screens," Prasad added

According to the minister, he had last met the PM on CAS a month back and today he updated Vajpayee on the steps taken by the government, especially his ministry, on working towards a consumer-friendly CAS regime.

Asked whether the government is considering banning advertisements on pay channels to make the so-called errant broadcasters fall in line, Prasad said, "I am exploring every option."

But experts say that bringing in a legislative change to rein in pay channels by banning ads on them or putting a quota on them would create problems for the government as Parliament is unlikely to okay such changes in a hurry without a thorough debate. Moreover, an ordinance in this regard aimed at cable operators or even the foreign broadcasters may not get the desired result as the next session of Parliament is round the corner and coincides with the CAS deadline.

As per law, an Ordinance has to go back to Parliament for ratification and that, again, may create problems for the government, experts say.

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