CAS on in Chennai as of now; not in Mumbai, Kolkata

MUMBAI: The implementation process of the first phase of the conditional access system has commenced as of today (1 September 2003) in a city where the free-to-air (FTA) channels dominate - Chennai. But, uncertainty still prevails in Mumbai and Kolkata and no blackouts of pay channels have been effected here.

Multi System Operators (MSOs) Hathway Cable and Datacom (Rajan Raheja venture in which Star India has a 26 per cent stake) and Sumangali Cablevision (a division of K Maran's Sun Network) have switched off the pay channels as of midnight of Sunday, 31 August 2003. Hathway officials have confirmed that CAS is being implemented in Chennai. Sources claim that pay channels including the Hindi mass entertainment channels, Raj TV and Vijay TV have gone off air.

This move comes into force despite the fact that the Madras High Court is slated to hear a petition on CAS filed by K. Surendrakumar.

Media reports state that Surendrakumar sought to forbear the MSO respondents and officials from in any way implementing the scheme without following the provisions of Rule 9 to 13 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Rules 1995.

Surendrakumar has mentioned in his petition that none of the provisions of Rules 9 to 13, relating to details on free-to-air channels and a declaration by local cable operators, had been complied with in Chennai and under such circumstances if the CAS regime became operational it would be a `futile exercise' and against the spirit of the Act, resulting in `confusion, chaos and fleecing of subscribers by operators'.

Surendrakumar pointed out that the CAS could not be implemented without the set top boxes and added that till date no information on their rate, rental charges, warranty, security deposit and its refund had been disseminated to subscribers who are still in the dark about the new regime. Also, as these boxes are not available in the open market consumers cannot hope to procure them independently.

Meanwhile, the implementation of CAS hasn't started in the other two cities - Mumbai and Kolkata. In Mumbai, MSOs Hathway Cable & Datacom and INCableNet haven't enforced any blackout of pay channels in south Mumbai (Zone 1).

The reasons being quoted are: the ongoing festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, the existing uncertainty due to lack of clear-cut instructions from the central government or I&B ministry; and staunch opposition from the Shiv Sena. The MSO executives and the cable operators are awaiting the outcome of the government appointed CAS implementation task force meeting in New Delhi scheduled for 3 pm today.

The team spoke to several consumers in south Mumbai and they confirmed that there were no blackouts (of pay channels) as of now.

The West Bengal government on Sunday said that CAS would not be implemented in Kolkata and has sought further clarifications from the I&B ministry. In an unprecedented move, the chief minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharjee, has been quoted as urging the centre to take the respective state governments into confidence before implementing it.

Perhaps, the communist CPI-M government is taking a leaf from the book of the Congress chief minister Sheila Dixit and BJP Delhi state leader Madan Lal Khurana who has opposed CAS implementation in Delhi and the Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray in Mumbai. These politicians have succeeded in stalling CAS - at least temporarily - rollout in their respective cities.

Media reports have quoted Kolkata city police chief, Sujoy Chakraborty, who has asked the dominant MSOs - RPG Netcom, Citicable and Manthan - to avoid enforcing CAS.

Bhattacharjee also suggested that the centre should form a committee and ascertain the views of the governments, the operators and consumers. Although it is not clear whether the I&B ministry will consider these suggestions.

Till then, all eyes on the government appointed CAS implementation task force meeting at 3 pm in Delhi and the Madras High Court.

Also read:

Nothing official about CAS deferment

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