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Trai recommends CAS suspension for 3 months

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MUMBAI: The regulator today bowled a beamer that is bound to send the votaries of conditional access into a spin.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has recommended that the 10 July 2003 notification on conditional access in the country be either denotified or kept in abeyance for a period of three months.

Trai, which submitted its interim recommendations on conditional access system (CAS) today to the information and broadcasting ministry, observed that, after being appointed as the regulator for the broadcast sector in January this year, it has 'obtained substantial information and views, and is in a position to take the process forward with a more detailed Consultation Paper.'

CAS will be off in Chennai too

If, as expected, the I&B ministry accepts the regulator's decision, CAS will be deferred in all the four metros till the time Trai reaches a final understanding on the matter. As of now only Chennai has implemented CAS.

The authority, which met with broadcasters, MSOs, representatives of cable operators and consumer groups, and the four state governments that have to implement CAS also studied cable regulatory practices as followed in countries like Australia, Canada, the European Union, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Philippines, South Africa and the UK, before making its assessment.

The Authority, while making its recommendations, has maintained that it is not discussing the desirability and continuity of CAS, but how best it can be implemented without there being any undue exploitation of the consumers. The salient points of Trai's assessments are -

Patent illegalities being committed

# The absence of regulation of cable TV in India has led to a situation where patent illegalities are being committed. The ground reality is that, even in CAS areas, most cable operators are allowing the reception of pay channels to subscribers without addressable systems. In such a situation, Trai cannot fix the rates for the cable operators to charge from the subscribers for showing the pay channels since that would amount to endorsement of an illegal activity.

#The problem in implementing CAS can only be sorted out after Trai discusses the issues raised by the state governments in detail. Trai has already called such a meeting. "In the interim, if CAS continues, we would only be perpetuating the illegalities being committed in areas under CAS," points out the authority.

# The ground realities also stipulate that there are financial constraints at the operator level because the fragmented Indian market has very few well-managed and well-funded multi cable system operators (MSOs).

# The current ground realities of the Indian market show that a volume-led deployment of CAS is unlikely till the consumers are confident that acceptance of CAS would not lead to higher charges and deterioration in services, say the recommendations.

Subscriber the victim

As a result of these ground realities, it is the subscriber who is the victim of the present day situation. The subscriber is, accordingly, faced with increase in cable tariffs which may have no direct co-relation with cost or any other cogent reasoning / basis and in the absence of a regulatory system all the three ladders in the cable TV system are blaming each other for exploiting the consumer.

Pertinently, points out Trai, this is the situation even after Trai issued its order dated 15 January 2004 specifying as ceiling the charges prevalent on 26 December 2003 as the authority has received reports that fewer channels were being shown or in some cases even attempts to increase tariff have been made. Besides, some type of set top boxes commonly available are not suitable from the point of view of portability from one area to another even in the same city, and the consumer consequently suffers.

CAS should be denotified or kept in abeyance

In conclusion, says Trai, the only feasible course of action seems to be that CAS should be denotified or kept in abeyance till the authority finalises the regulation on CAS after the final consultation paper. This paper will be issued within about a week based on the comments on the preliminary consultation note received from the stakeholders; the Authority's interaction with broadcasters, MSOs, representatives of cable operators and consumer groups; views of the State Governments implementing CAS and the problems faced by them; and a study of the regulatory systems and best practices in other countries.

The detailed Consultation process is expected to take a further period of about three months. In the meanwhile, the authority has recommended staying of CAS in the four metros, as "otherwise the consumers will continue to be exploited and also the denotification or putting notification in abeyance would take us out of the present illogical situation where for different reasons CAS has not been implemented in Mumbai and Kolkata and also partially in Delhi, and is being opposed by State Government in Chennai."

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