Govt. warns it will brook no dilly-dallying on CAS rollout

NEW DELHI: The government cracked the whip on the stakeholders of the broadcasting and cable industry and those involved with implementation of conditional access systems, even as a broad consensus seems to have been arrived at on the number of channels, 30, that would make up the basic tier of free to air channels.

In a surprise appearance at the meeting of the task force on CAS held here today, I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and member of Parliament Kirit Somaiya addressed the gathering. For the first time, a Sahara TV representative too, was present in his capacity as the representative of a free to air channel.

In a short, but categorical, address, Prasad said the problems of the stakeolders would be properly addressed, but cautioned that no effort to frustrate the implementation of CAS would be tolerated.

Prasad said that the government has made a conscious decision to introduce CAS keeping in view the sole interest of the consumer, an issue which was reiterated by Somaiya too. But a cable operator pointed out that there was a hint of "threat" in the firmness with which Somaiya spoke.

Somaiyya, citing the instance of the Mumbai blackout by cable operators and today's Mumbai high court ruling, a development that has been reported by indiantelevision, made it clear that, if need be, such an agitation would be taken to other cities too and the issue would be raised in Parliament also.

The next meeting is likely to be held around 21 March.

According to Prasad, the commitment of the Government to provide an affordable system to the consumer is "categorical, clear and unambiguous."

Later after the guest artistes in the meeting had made their presence felt and left, others discussed the composition of the basic tier.

According to some of those who were there, it was mentioned that the basic tier should comprise channels from all genres if available. The genres would be entertainment, news and current affairs, sports, infotainment, apart from the Doordarshan channels.

There are free to air channels in most genres, but almost all available sports channels are pay, including DD Sports, which is yet to sort out a legal case initiated by Modi Entertainment Network against an assertion made last year by a Prasar Bharati official that DD Sports may turn free to air.

Though most of those who attended the meeting agreed that 30 would be an adequate number for the basic tier, some cable operators suggested that an extra nominal amount per channel should be fixed if a cable operator wanted to show more than 30 channels as part of the basic tier.

This suggestion, however, seems to have been shot down as it found very little favour in the meeting, according to some of those who attended the over two-hour meeting at Shastri Bhawan.

As an aside, a consumer activist from Mumbai also brought up an issue of portrayal of consumer activism and consumer activists by some MSOs in Mumbai vis-a-vis CAS.

A finance ministry representative also listed out the elements taken into account while trying to fix a price of the basic tier by the government. The gathering was told that while calculating the probable price of the basic tier, the govrnment has taken into account cable networks that cover regions in the radius of 3 km, 4 km and 7 km.

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