Trai not for mandated Cas in rest of India

 MUMBAI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) feels Cas (conditional access system) should roll out voluntarily rather than be mandated in other parts of the country.

"We may think of mandatory Cas for the larger metros but in other parts of the country it may not be the best way forward. We haven't, though, made up our mind on this. We have constituted a small group representing all the stakeholders to suggest on how to take voluntary Cas forward. We realise that Cas has gained momentum and wouldn't like to miss on that opportunity," said Trai advisor M C Chaube while speaking at a workshop on "Cas and Digital CATV," organised by Satellite & Cable TV (SCaT) magazine in Mumbai.

With some cable operators continuing to transmit unencrypted signals in the Cas areas, the broadcast and cable sector regulator intends to come down heavily on them.

"We are aware that there are still slippages and there are complaints that encryption have not taken place in some areas. We are going to take action against this as it is at the core of Cas," said Chaube.

Reacting to a suggestion from the three multi-system operators (Wire & Wireless India Ltd, Hathway Cable & Datacom and Incablenet) that Cas should be opened up to the other areas of Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata by April, Chaube said the process needed a certain run-up time. "Cas is not just about three MSOs. The smaller MSOs should be given time to prepare for laying out the digital infrastructure. Consolidation is bound to happen as digitalisation requires deep pockets, but as a regulator we shouldn't have such a time frame in mind that makes it difficult for the smaller MSOs," he added.

Trai would relook at such areas like pricing and a la carte issues in the middle of this year. "We are going to revisit at some of these decisions and take a call whether appropriate adjustments are needed. We would be examining such issues as similar pricing for all genres of channels, a la carte offerings and Rs 77 on free-to-air (FTA) channels," Chaube said.

The seeding of set-top boxes (STBs) would touch 500000 in a week's time out of an estimated cable and satellite home of 1.2 million in the Cas belt. "The average penetration would be 40 per cent. Kolkata is seeing slow offtake because regional channels are popular and they are in FTA mode. Our aim is not to see that boxes are sold but to offer consumers choice through Cas," Chaube clarified. The penetration percentage though will be clearer when figures are available on the number of homes that have more than one TV sets.

The next stage of progress would be when consumer forms return to the MSOs and they are fed into the subscriber management system (SMS).

In case of voluntary Cas, the crucial element was for the broadcasters and MSOs to enter into commercial agreements, he added.

In a panel discussion, WWIL MD Jagjit Kohli pointed out that Trai should come out with some regulatory framework to facilitate voluntary Cas and Headend-In-The-Sky (HITS). "Broadcasters may not support voluntary Cas. So it would be essential for Trai to define some rules as the momentum for digitalisation should not be lost," he added.

Hathway Cable & Datacom MD and CEO K Jayaraman pointed out that cable operators in non Cas areas should be ready to adopt digitalisation which has grown much faster in India than what was being initially preicted.

Incablenet head Ravi Mansukhani said the seeding process has been successful and the next step for MSOs would be to stop free access of pay channels in phases.

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