Television

Miffed cable operators issue memo against broadcaster to the I&B minister

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NEW DELHI: The cable operators are at it once again and this time the allegations are more precise and mince no words. From conditional access to DTH to the previous government to the latest 'trap' being discussed by the sector regulator, all have been painted almost black with one brush --- broadcasters.



"It is indeed shocking to observe that India remains the only country in the world, which has no law whatsoever to regulate satellite broadcasting," a memorandum, submitted by three cable organisations to the Prime Minister, infobroad minister Jaipal Reddy and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India chief Pradip Baijal, states. The text of the memorandum was released to the media here today.



It further states: "Taking full advantage of the complete lawless state of affairs, the satellite broadcasters have unleashed a spate of unfair, unjustified and monopolistic practices over the hapless consumers and cable operators in order to fulfill their devious objectives."

The signatories to the memorandum have pointed that broadcasters, especially the two big ones, "abused their position" to reverse government and court orders on conditional access system (CAS) "in spite of the fact that implementation of CAS was in the public interest and that Rs 8000 million had already been invested in setting up the infrastructure" for addressability. The signatories to the memorandum, which attempts at reverting attention on the broadcast and cable sector, include Cable Operators Federation of India, Cable Networks Association of India and National Cable & Telecom Association.



On monopolistic tendencies prevalent in the sector, the memorandum says that most broadcasters are selling their channels as bundles/ bouquets without giving the right to the consumers to choose individual channels of choice. "To make matters worse, pay channel pricing has been used as a predatory tool to eliminate competition on the ground," the memo states.



DTH too has come under the cable operators' scanner and it has been alleged that, while all forms of competition are welcome, the cable operators fear that the broadcasters will deny a level playing field by initially subsidizing the content on DTH and making it more expensive on cable, leading to wholesale destruction of the cable TV industry which could lead to an unemployment problem in the country.



Making all the right political noises, the petitioners have said that 70,000 cable operators of India provided employment to 1,500,000 individuals and the government should ensure that they are "not driven out of their occupation by coercive tactics of foreign broadcasters."



The 'trap' system or poor man's set-top box for addressability too hasn't been spared. Nor the Trai, which has been accused of playing favourite.



Pointing out that the 'trap' is an "obsolete technology, rejected the world over two decades ago, "Trai has been criticised for pushing this obsolete technology with the objective of "putting the cable industry at a technological disadvantage as compared to DTH and broadband."



After all this, the demands: immediate enactment of a broadcasting legislation on the lines of the Draft Broadcast Bill of 1997; implementation of CAS; ensuring pay channels are not sold as bouquets; guidelines on restricting advertisement time on pay channels and increasing the basic cable service charges from Rs 72 (excluding taxes) to Rs 180 (excluding local taxes).



Doesn't all this sound a bit too familiar?


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