Mumbai HC postpones CAS hearings to June

MUMBAI: Even the courts appear to be waiting for the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) offer some clarity of the vexed issue of conditional access. On 30 January, the Mumbai High Court postponed its hearing on several CAS cases to June.

While deferring the hearing, the court noted that Trai has been mandated to settle complicated issues involved with the cable ops and the broadcasters. However the HC has also stated that it has not stayed the implementation of CAS in the city.

Readers may recall that no sooner had Trai been appointed to regulate the cable industry than it went into high gear. Last month Trai had released a "consultation note" for the industry freezing the prices of cable services in respect of free to air (FTA) and pay channels as on 26 December 2003 for all areas. Trai had indicated that it wanted written responses by 30 January. It wanted clarity on issues such as norms for fixing rates (or ceiling rates). Another issue is whether the distribution of free-to-air channels; should be uniform in areas under CAS and non-CAS areas. The Indian Broadcaster's Foundation (IBF) responded asking Trai to leave revenue aspects to the market forces.

Meanwhile, consumer organisations in Mumbai are a divided lot. One side that includes the Consumer Action Network filed petitions in favour of CAS. On the other side Citizens For a Just Society have opposed the legislation. In Chennai which was the first city to undergo the CAS process the going has not been smooth on account of distribution bottlenecks.

There were complaints from Chennai consumers that pay broadcasters like ESPN Star Sports were asking subscribers to sign an agreement for a year failing which they would not receive signals.

With elections at hand, politics has come into play as well with Tamil Nadu chief minister and recent entrant into the NDA fold Jayalalitha telling I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad that she wanted CAS to be withdrawn.

Prasad, meanwhile, has left it all to the Trai. Prasad, who was on Sunday in Chennai a few hours before the launch of Anna University's first community FM radio, has been quoted in media reports as saying a decision on whether or not CAS would stay in Chennai depended solely on what the regulator's report would recommend.

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