I&B officials meet MSOs, cable ops in stocktaking exercise

NEW DELHI: The government has made it clear that it will tolerate no nonsense from any stakeholder of the industry where conditional access is concerned.

In this regard, it has not only asked the broadcasters to furnish the "relevant details immediately not later than 10 June, 2003", including the individual pricing of the pay channels in an existing bouquet, but also conveyed to the MSOs (multi system operators) and cable ops that they should ensure that adequate number of set top boxes (STBs) are available in the market at an affordable price.

What's more, this message was stated in no uncertain terms today by additional secretary (broadcasting) in the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry Vijay Singh and later by the I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to MSOs and cable ops at separate meetings.

Prasad, who met representatives of MSOs and independent cable ops today, said the government wants four of the following assurances from industry:

* Availability of STBs for the consumers;

* Availability of the boxes at an affordable price;

* Proper servicing and maintenance of the boxes; and

* Making available to the consumer cable services without arm-twisting them.

When an independent cable operator brought up the issue of delaying tactics being allegedly employed by the broadcasters where announcement of the prices of pay channels is concerned, Prasad is reported to have allayed any such fears saying that the government would take steps, if necessary, to make the broadcasters fall in line.

A cable operator from Delhi, Rakesh Dutta, also suggested that cross service restrictions of 20 per cent as in KU-band DTH ventures should be put in place to stop the broadcasters from manipulating the market, especially when a broadcaster also has interest in a ground distribution company. The examples of Zee Cable's interest in Siti Cable and Star's in Rajan Raheja-controlled Hathway Datacom were cited in this regard.

However, the I&B minister is reported to have not made any commitment on this issues today.

Earlier in the day, in a stock-taking meeting that additional secretary Singh had with MSOs and independent cable operators, various issues relating to CAS and its rollout from 14 July was discussed.

According to some of those who attended today's meetings, the ministry official sought assurances from the industry on the availability of STBs --- something, which learns from sources, were immediately given by the MSOs represented in the meeting.

Singh is also understood to have told those present in the meeting that the government has given the broadcasters time up to 10 June to furnish details regarding the channels they operate in India, the nature of the channels (whether FTA or pay) and, more importantly, the individual pricing of the pay channels.

The ministry has recently shot off another missive to broadcasters citing an earlier letter dated 20 May saying that details requested for have not reached the ministry yet and should be done immediately and not later than 10 June.

The details sought by the ministry include the names and number of channels operated by a broadcasting company, channels categorised as "pay" channels, the pricing of the pay channels (separately for individual channels and for the bouquet), the names and number of FTA operated by a broadcasting company, brief description of the content of each of these channels (both pay and free-to-air).

Those who attended today's meetings included representatives from Siti Cable, INCableNet, Hathway and independent cable operators like Dutta, Roop Sharma. The surprise package of the day was National Cable& Telecom Association president Vikky Chowdhry, who was invited to today's meeting, but is not a member of the government-piloted task force on CAS.

The government may meet the broadcasters also separately as part of an initiative to ensure a smooth rollout of CAS in the face of stiff resistance 

and criticism from various political parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party that leads India's coalition government.

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