HC sets 1 Jan '07 deadline for CAS implementation

NEW DELHI / MUMBAI: The many meanderings the CAS (conditional access system) story, which began in 2003 with a government notification, could well have reached its final denouement.

The Delhi High Court today passed an order that makes it imperative on the government to ensure that the three metros of Mumbai, Kolkata and the Capital itself be fully "CAS delivered" on or before 1 January 2007.

And making clear its resolve that there be no further delays in the matter, the court declared that all pending and any new issues related to CAS raised by the government would be taken up only after the CAS' implementation deadline of 31 December 2006. It therefore set the next date of hearing on the matter for 10 January 2007.

The court also recorded a commitment by the joint secretary broadcasting Baijendra Kumar in this regard. The government official's commitments were taken on record by the court as part of an order passed on 10 March 2006, which had directed the government to implement CAS in Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai within a month's time.

The government also assured the court today that a new notification on CAS would be issued by 31 July 2006.

The government's stand on the issue means that from 1 January 2007 all pay channels will have to pass through a set-top box (STB) on a mandatory basis or else they stand to be blacked out of all cable homes in the metros.

Multi-system operators (MSOs) have welcomed the court's decision as addressability would make the industry transparent on subscriber numbers. "Addressability will benefit the entire industry as well as the subscribers," said Wire and Wireless India Ltd (WWIL) CEO Jagjit Kohli.

Hathway Cable & Datacom CEO K Jayaraman feels this time round there is a lot of clarity on pricing, STBs and choice with a regulatory framework in place. The fear among consumers that CAS pricing would be the same or even more than what is prevailing on analogue cable is unfounded.

"Addressable pricing is set in motion by the recent TDSAT (Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal) ruling in the DTH (direct-to-home) case. If that is the trendsetter, broadcasters will have to make their content available on digital cable at half the price of what they are quoting on analogue systems. The customers, thus, do not have to worry about paying more for all the channels that they are getting now. And in any case, in a CAS regime they are select the channels they want to watch," he said.

Besides, MSOs are making available the STBs on rental scheme. "Customers will not be locked to the boxes and can move to other services. The regulatory framework is setting things in place," he added.

Commenting on the development, MSO Alliance chief Ashok Mansukhani said, "We are delighted by the outcome. CAS will enable the cable industry to deliver more choice to consumers at competitive prices."

The industry also feels that a five-month breathing period is a practical implementation schedule. But how ready are the MSOs? “WWIL is fully prepared to roll-out STBs not only in the notified areas but throughout the country,” Kohli said. It will be using Headend in the Sky (HITS) technology which will enable it to cover the entire country with a single Digital Headend. “Our value-added boxes will enable subscribers to browse internet, chat, send & receive e-mails, on their existing TV sets without the necessity of having a personal computer. STBs will also have full triple play features including facility for VOIP digital telephone lines using their existing telephone instruments,” he added.

Among the other features being introduced by WWIL are movie on demand (MOD) /video on demand (VOD), pay per view (PPV), interactive games, smart card based real time payment solution and e-banking, the company said in an official release.

MSOs and independent cable operators will have to work out commercial agreements with broadcasters including fixing of channel rates. Said SET Discovery Ltd president Anuj Gandhi, "Now the focus will be on MSOs to show their preparedness for CAS. We hope to be ready with our rates in the next three months. By setting 1 January as the deadline, we will have to compress the time frame a bit."

A clutch of MSOs had filed a petition in the Delhi HC in 2004 alleging that the government's stand on CAS and keeping it in abeyance has resulted in heavy financial losses to the cable industry.

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