Cable TV

Cable ops hopeful of silver lining on Cas cloud

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: It's summer time. It's Cas (conditional access system) time. Once again.

This time, though, the role of skeptics has changed. The cable operators, and not the pay broadcasters, are not very hopeful of any fruitful outcome of the latest government initiative of trying to hold discussions on Cas and its probable implementation.

According to Roop Sharma, head of Cable Operators Federation of India, "The ministry's stand (on Cas) is ambivalent as it's mixing up various issues like digitalization in the name of discussing addressability."

The information and broadcasting ministry had a round of meeting with cable industry representatives on Thursday where, as some cable ops pointed out, "the same old issues were discussed."

The I&B ministry, however, is quick to defend its action. A senior ministry official said that matters like Cas have to be deliberated upon, before some concrete decisions could be taken.

That's why, the official pointed out, the agenda of Thursday's meeting clearly listed Cas and sector regulator's recommendation on addressability as the topic of discussion. In attendance were some cable ops from Delhi, Pune and Kolkata.

Broadcast and cable regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) in a set of recommendation, amongst other things, had proposed three models to move over to an addressable regime in cable homes.

Reasons for offering three options being that one system of addressability cannot be feasible for the whole country, though in the long run the system is the best way to bring about transparency in the industry, Trai had said in its report submitted on 1 October, 2004.

Pointing out that he preferred to keep away from the Cas meet another cable-invitee, National Cable & Telecom Association's Vikki Chowdhary, said that the government is not serious about Cas and continues to have such meetings from time to time to take token notice of the issue.

The skepticism of the cable industry stems from the fact that in Thursday's meet, the ministry officials dwelt on digitalization of the Indian TV industry and whether it would be feasible for Cas to be implemented when the digitalisation is complete.

Trai, which has floated a consultation paper on migration to a digital system, however, has made it clear that this process might take up to a decade to be fully implemented.

Still, ministry officials feel that the government is making an effort to continue the dialogue with the industry on Cas, which was discussed at a recent meeting of state information ministers.

The general consensus at this meeting was that implementation of CAS could be looked into and the issue 'revisited' in the states of Delhi, Maharashtra and West Bengal, which had been earlier identified for Cas implementation in phases.

Cas was discussed amongst various stakeholders, including the government in 2003, before being abandoned just ahead of 2004 general elections as politicians thought it could affect their performances at the hustings.

With skepticism prevailing all round on Cas, for the industry, as also, it's a sense of deja vu.

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