Don't delay CAS beyond 1 November: MSOs to I&B minister

NEW DELHI: India's information and broadcasting (I&B) minister RS Prasad today conveyed his displeasure to representatives of multi-system operators (MSO) by saying that they were also responsible for the legal and political conundrum that conditional access system (CAS) has landed into.

The MSOs had met the minister to petition him on CAS - to say that the uncertainty over it has caused "further confusion" and will have grave financial implications for the industry.

According to government sources, Prasad, even while listening to the MSOs, made it amply clear that he was not pleased with the way they had handled the situation vis-?-vis cable operators.

Those who were present at today's meeting included Zee Telefilms vice chairman Jawahar Goel, Siti Cable's Rajiv Khattar, INCablenet's Rajiv Vyaas, Hathway Datacom CEO K Jayaraman, the company's vice president for North 

India, SN Sharma and a senior executive from PGNetcom.

The I&B minister also hasn't given any assurance on facilitating an extension of the tax exemptions on importing set-top boxes (STBs). The tax sop extended to the cable industry on imports of boxes ends on 30 September.

The MSOs, however, in a memorandum, have stated that the implementation of CAS has become uncertain in the cities of New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata and would cause "irreparable damage to the industry, government and consumers".

Pointing out that as an industry, cable television was hardly regulated - leading to lack of transparency and chaos - the memo says, "CAS would have been one golden opportunity for the industry to have got rid of the above issues. As MSOs, we have all invested and also opened up irrevocable letters of credit totaling to an investment level of Rs 8,000 million. Thus, the delay in implementation is going to make the MSOs and the industry bankrupt. There will be a situation of sovereign default, loss of employment and the respective shareholders losing all they have invested."

The memo states, "With the uncertainty, there will be further confusion when pay broadcasters will increase the prices around November/December 2003," adding that this would lead to consumer protest, non-recovery of subscription money and, therefore, "disruption of services".

"(The) cable subscription rates will shoot up as a consequence," the MSOs have warned, even while wisely pointing out that the delay in implementation and uncertainty will cause the government to lose hundreds of 

crores of revenue as taxes by way of service/ entertainment taxes.

"We request your good offices to sympathise with the MSOs who have invested such large sums of money in order to comply with government's statute, so that CAS implementation in the cities of New Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai are not delayed beyond November 1, 2003," the memorandum ends on a note of plea to the government.

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