Regulators

Broadcast Bill: CAS law out, addressable systems in

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MUMBAI: If the proposed Broadcast Bill 2006 does become law, it will not just be the requirement of a licence to operate that the cable fraternity will have to grapple with.

The other worrying aspect of the Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill 2006, for the MSOs in particular, is the fact that conditional access systems (CAS) has no place in the Bill's scheme of things. If the proposed Bill, which is presently being circulated among members of the Union Cabinet, does become law, it effectively means that there will be no rollout of CAS in India. At least as far as the way it was originally mandated (a timebound rollout first the metros and then further afield) is concerned.

The cable industry is presently regulated by the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995. This Act will automatically stand subsumed if (and that's a BIG if) Parliament signs the Broadcast Bill into an Act of law. What this will mean also is that SEC 4A, the section through which CAS was introduced, would also get deleted.

Interestingly, there is a "savings clause" provided in the proposed Bill that protects CAS where it has already been implemented. Since Chennai is the only metro that is CAS-delivered, it could well end up being the only CAS market in the country.

The thinking of the information and broadcasting ministry mandarins on CAS comes through quite clearly in the wording that the draft Bill uses. It talks of the need to introduce a modified version of CAS that is "more consumer friendly" that it calls Addressable Systems.And the road map for addressability is through going digital. The Bill proposes to progressively introduce addressable systems from a specified date with a cut-off date to complete the changeover from analogue to digital. And rather than a mandated CAS rollout, the Bill sees addressability coming in as a natural fallout of the phasing out of analogue and the gradual switchover to digital - a process that is going on in many markets across the globe.

An enabling clause in the Bill that eases the switchover to digital is also seen as allowing enough flexibility to make suitable changes or amendments where required.

The draft Broadcast Bill, which calls for the setting up of a separate Broadcast Regulatory Authority of India (Brai), has covered four major areas in its ambit, which include content, cross media ownership, subscriptions and live sports feeds (which are already part of the downlink norms).

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