Independent body to do CAS-related cost survey

NEW DELHI: Taking due note of the mounting pressure from the cable fraternity, the Indian government piloted task force on conditional access has agreed to rope in an outside agency to survey the various contentious parameters on which the costing of the basic tier of cable service would be done.

According to sources, the surveyor will be selected by the information and broadcasting ministry and is likely to begin work by the weekend or early next week. The names of agencies which cropped up during the over three - hour meeting today include- PriceWaterhouse Coopers, ORG-Marg and a Tata company, according to task force sources.

The survey, having a specified time frame of four-five days, would be carried out in Delhi and Kolkata.

The finance ministry earlier had come to the conclusion that the cost of the basic tier of free to air channels in a post CAS regime would be Rs 45.90 (exclusive of local and entertainment taxes).

The cable operators in the task force and elsewhere had dubbed the figure "too low" and disputed the parameters used to arrive at this cost, which were said to be "far from the ground reality."

For example, one of the most contentious parameters was a cable network's coverage area where the finance ministry used the parameter of a radius of 7.5 km with 32,000-odd homes passed through by the cable. These parameters were used to determine the cost incurred by a cable operator in providing the cable service.

The cable fraternity, in turn claims, that no individual cable network in India covers over 30,000 cable TV homes and that the radius should be 4.8 km.

At today's meeting, where most of the time was taken up by discussions on this topic, the government representative, who heads the panel, is also said to have asked the broadcasters whether they are ready with the maximum retail price of pay channels in their respective bouquet and whether there is a chance of any pay channel turning free to air.

According to sources, the broadcasters' lobby said that individual companies are internally studying the situation and would come up with the relevant information soon.

Meanwhile, the cable operators across the country, especially those in the four metros where CAS is being sought to be implemented in the first phase, are trying to put up a semblance of unity as they feel threatened that a low price of the basic tier would ultimately kill their business.

According to Rakesh Dutta, a task force member and a Delhi cable operator, a resolution, signed by 1,500-odd cable ops from cities like Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai and Bangalore and Kolkata states that cable operators would be unable to carry on their business if the price of the basic tier is below their cost of operation.

The relevant part of the resolution, submitted to the government today, reads, "We unanimously declare we shall be unable to carry on our business at a price which is below our cost of operation, which stands at Rs. 180 per month (per subscriber), as already submitted (earlier) to the members of the task force."

The chairman of the task force today criticised the agitation, including dharnas and press conferences (held yesterday under the aegis of the Cable Operators United Front in Delhi), being organised by a section of cable operators having so-called allegiance to a particular MSO, saying that shouting slogans against the task force or the government would not solve any problem.

Still, it is learnt that the venue of today's task force meeting was besieged by a sizeable number of cable operators who are not members of the task force, but want their voice to be heard and also get first hand information of what transpired behind closed doors.

The next meeting of the task force would depend on the outside agency's report and feedback on various aspects of cable business.

(1$ =Rs 47.73 )

See related story :

Finance ministry moots Rs 46 FTA price 

CAS task force formed; to meet 7 Feb

Basic tier task force compositon to be fixed today 

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