Television

TN introduces bill to acquire Sumangali, Hathway in state

MUMBAI: The Tamil Nadu government has introduced a legislation that gives it the powers to acquire and take over bigger cable TV networks in the state, including multi-service operators (MSOs) and Optical Transport systems.

The bill (a copy of which is available with Indiantelevision.com), which was introduced in the state assembly today by Tamil Nadu law minister D Jayakumar, specifically mentions two MSOs in the state. The phrasing of the bill is as follows: "This Act on the appointed date, will apply to the activities of Sumangali Cable vision having its offices at... and Hathway..."

The bill appears clearly to be targeting the activities of southern broadcast king Kalanithi Maran's SCV and Hathway Cable and Datacom (in which Star India has a 26 per cent stake).

When contacted, senior officials of both MSOs remained tight-lipped on their possible course of action.

The state government has cited public interest concerns to justify a legislation that harks back to the nationalisation of banks in the country in the early seventies by then prime minister the late Indira Gandhi.

Among the reasons attached to the bill, the government said it has received "numerous" complaints on the failure of the networks in providing proper facilities and collection of "prohibitive" charges for the packages of pay channels, "disrupting proper telecast of certain channels" and "selective blurring of certain channels." The bill also alludes to "coercion often being resorted to by distributors and operators."

The critical point in the bill as far as the two MSOs are concerned is this: "The government of Tamil Nadu cannot shirk its responsibility in this sphere. It is, therefore, proposed to enact a legislation for the acquisition, transfer, and taking over of the administration of the cable television networks including MSOs and optical transport systems (fibre optic delivery)."

The bill further states: "The rights conferred by the Constitution to carry on trade by such companies or persons engaged in television transmission networks is subject to reasonable restrictions imposed in the interest of the general public."

That the state government is targeting only the big boys in the business is clear when it states that "this bill intends to keep the small street-level tail end cable operators outside the purview of the legislation" since "they function at the fag end of the distribution system."

Now its over to Sumangali and Hathway to see their next move. This tussle is still a while away from the end game stage though since it has to first by passed by the legislative assembly and become an Act.

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