REPORT OF THE TASK FORCE ON INTRODUCTION OF CONDITIONAL ACCESS SYSTEM

 

INTRODUCTION

The issue of introduction of an addressability system has been engaging the attention of the Government for some time, keeping in view the problems being highlighted by sections of the broadcasting industry, including Cable operators, MSO's and Content Providers. A large number of complaints had also been received from subscribers, protesting unwarranted and frequent increase in subscription rates by Cable operators. With almost 38 million cable and satellite households in the country and with a household paying on an average Rs 125 per month, as subscription charges, the revenue generated in the sector is close to Rs 5,700 crores. Of this, there have been reports of substantial under reporting by different sections depriving the different players of the industry of their entitled revenue/collection and reportage of transparent viewership figures and the Government of tax.

To deliberate and decide upon various issues on this topic, it was decided to set up a Task Force, under Joint Secretary (Broadcasting) in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, with representations from the cross section of the industry. The objective, inter alia, was to deliberate in the need for introducing a Conditional Access System for viewing channels through the cable network and to determine the modalities for doing so.

CONSTITUTION OF TASK FORCE AND TERMS OF REFERENCE

The Task Force was constituted by an order dated 25th September, 2001 and it consists of representatives from Indian Broadcasting Federation, MSOs Content Creators, Cable Operators, Broadcasters, Infrastructure Providers, nominee from the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, representative of Consumer activists and technical experts. The order constituting the committee, with its Terms of Reference, is annexed.

The Committee was empowered to invite experts and to broadbase the representation on the Task Force, technical experts were co-opted from the industry. Other participants who desired to contribute were also invited to attend. The primary issue of concern for the Committee was to establish the need for introducing Conditional Access System in order to provide a choice to the consumer and to examine the feasibility of doing so, to protect the interests of the consumer from additional costs on replacement of the TV receiver or on purchase of the Conditional Access System, and to debate technology issues relating to standardization and performance.

MEETINGS

The Task Force held three meetings, one each in the month of October, November and December 2001. At each meeting specific issues were identified for discussion and deliberation and decisions were taken there on, at the same meeting. Since the technology issues were more complex and required extensive consultations, a Subcommittee was constituted under Director (BD), I&B with representations from the industry,equipment manufacturers and technical experts to go into those aspects. This Subcommittee held separate meetings and their recommendations were considered by the Task Force in its last meeting held on 26th December, 2001. At each stage the members were encouraged to send further comments/ observations in writing for the consideration of the Task Force.

After each meeting of the Task Force,the minutes were circulated to the members by post as well as over Internet. Members of the Task Force as well as other representatives of the industry have provided inputs, which were also considered by the Task Force. This included comments, which were received from National Cable and Telecommunications Associations, Cable Operators etc.

SUMMARY OF DISCUSSIONS

It was acknowledged that Cable Television in India was a technology, which had entered in an unbridled manner and had become a reality totally through private investment. A connectivity of over 35 million homes had been achieved in this syndrome. The MSOs were later entrants. Cable and Satellite Television had gradually become an irresistible force in the process of transformation of communication technology and the perceived potential of Cable TV, DTH, DTT etc. was immense. The Cable Operators observed that since demand of content was driving ad revenue and viewership, the Broadcasters and the Content Creators were whimsically levying exorbitant charges for programmes, channels and for bouquets. Arbitrary increases in subscription rates were creating a problem because Cable Operators were left with no option but to pass on this burden frequently to the subscribers.

The Group discussed the problems and alternatives available and was of the view that the consumer needed to exercise a choice of watching what he chose,and that the viewer should be made aware of what it would cost to view 'Pay' Channels. Addressability is a technique, where signals are sent in an encoded from and an equipment, placed at the subscriber's end, decodes the signals, in accordance with the choice exercised by the consumer and authorized by the Service Provider, specifically on the subscriber's request. The Task Force considered it desirable that the Conditional Access System should be introduced to provide the consumer choice of viewing and an option to pay for what he chose to watch. The consumer should also not be expected to pay unreasonably for the 'Free to Air' channels and must be able to receive the 'Free to Air' channels without any Set Top Box or any need to change the existing receiver

The Task Force acknowledged the existence of the value chain starting from the Content Maker, to the Content Provider ( Broadcaster) to the main Content Distributor, to the last mile Content Distributor (Cable Operator) and finally the consumer household. In the existing arrangement the consumer was paying for all the channels, irrespective of what he actually watched or desired to watch. There was now need to make the system transparent in respect of the Pay Channels /Pay programmes, which can be watched by selective subscribers. The subscribership of all 'Pay ' channels should be fully determinable. This transparency would allow entitled revenue to accrue to the different links in the chain,permit the consumer to have programming of his choice and watch channels according to their affordability, hopefully at a lower cost, and provide realistic and authentic viewership data. The Task Force was unanimous that the Conditional Access System is necessary to bring transparency at different levels,but that it should not add to the financial burden of the consumer. It was decided that the Government should mandate it by law. The Set Top Box, allowing addressability, should be required only for 'Pay' channels; for subscribers who opt to view only 'Free -to-Air' channels, there would be no requirement of a Set Top Box. The Set Top Box shall be supported by the MSOs/ Cable Operators through installation of necessary infrastructure like Subscriber Management System etc. It was considered desirable that the Government must be empowered to enter and inspect the premises and operations of the MSOs and Cable Operators to ensure enforcement of the requirements of the Set Top Box, of transparent recording of viewership figures,display of channel rates etc. .

The Task Force saw a presentation on the system introduced by M/s. Ortel Communications,in Bhubaneshwar, on experimental basis. It is using 'Dalvi', a low cost conditional access scrambling system, which combines security and multi-tiered addressability. It encrypts analogue signals and the system is compatible with any video transmission system. The system has the potential to address 80,000 customers with a subscriber Management System. A total of 4 channels -mix of 'Free - to - Air' and 'Pay'- are presently being routed through the Set Top Box. The cost of the Set Top Box is approximately Rs 3,500/- The system is one way and not interactive. It was informed that the start up costs,for investment in equipment at Head-end Level, was approximately Rs 50,000/- for each channel. The financial implications of introducing the Set Top Box and addressability system, at each level,were discussed against this background. The need to keep the present system intact, at least for those viewers who prefer to watch only 'Free to -Air' channels,was favoured.

The Task Force felt that the Set Top Box should be mandated only for " Premium Tier"; 'Free- to- Air' channels being taken in a "Basic Tier", receivable by all viewers at a standard subscription rate. The Task Force debated other issues emerging out of the presentation and felt that the price of channels / content for the Cable Operators should be fixed in a transparent manner, by Content Providers and Channel owners, for all operators.

The Task Force was unanimous in its view that there was need for an enabling provision in the legislation for Government to prescribe certain basic minimum standards for the equipment and its performance. In order to consider all issues relating to prescriptions of Standards and Performance Parameters, for the Set Top Box /Conditional Access System, a Sub-Committee made recommendations on the standards and the specifications for Digital Cable TV and Analogue Cable TV, as well as for Digital/ Analogue Set Top Boxes. It also recommended that the Cable Operator/ Equipment Provider should declare, in a transparent manner, the capability of the Set Top Box and its inter-operability with other networks. It also recommended that unauthorized viewing/ redistribution of the signal should be made a cognizable offence. The packaging of services,including Value Added Services, should be left to the Operators who should be free to choose the middleware/ software/ hardware provided that it conformed to basic minimum performance standards. It further recommended that the subscriber management system should provide transparent information to all the players.

The Task Force was of a strong view that there was urgent need to educate the subscribers, by all the stake holders,on the operation of Cable Television and the cost of various services, including the operation and cost of Set Top Boxes. The Task Force accepted the recommendation of the Sub-Committee, for an enabling provision in the Act to prescribe basic minimum technical standards and performance parameters, through the Bureau of India Standards (BIS). The manufacturers of the equipment must provide full information on the capability of the hardware. It was also considered desirable that BIS may invite comments from the industry and examine internationally acceptable standards before prescribing standards for India. The Task Force was of the view that eventually the Set Top Box would permit migration, by the subscriber, across various delivery media-Satellite,Cable and Terrestrial. The user will thus have the capability to migrate to various delivery media, simply by changing the "Network Interface Module".

The members of the Task Force debated the need for a Conditional Access System base on DVB simulcrypt technology or any other currently acceptable technology but eventually felt it appropriate to leave the issue of technological specifications to the Bureau of Indian Standards, who would ensure that the technology is not proprietary in nature. In order to ensure transparency in the interface between MSOs and the Cable operators, it was decided that the Government be empowered to obtain monthly reports from the MSOs, Broadcasters and Cable operators in the manner prescribed.

The Task Force also debated the issue of "must carry" provision for the content of the Public Service Broadcaster and the pricing of the "Basic Tier" of service and the Set Top Box. The Group felt that the consumer should not be burdened with the cost of changing his television sets on purchasing a Set Top Box, if he wanted to view only Free to Air channels. The Subscriber should exercise choice of viewing the 'Pay' channels through a Set Top Box. However there was no need to prescribe the cost price of either the Set Top Box. However there was no need to prescribe the cost price of either the Set Top Box or the 'Pay' channels. It was however, considered desirable that the pricing of various channel bouquets, by the Broadcasters, MSOs should be done in a transparent manner. The Group was unanimous that the Government should fix the price of the 'Basic Tier' and therefore legislation should enable the determination of the 'Basic Tier' price, from time to time by the Government. The Pricing/subsidy of the Set Top Boxes, by any player should be left to market forces, as long as the consumer was made fully aware of the availability and capability of the equipment. The equipment suppliers were confident that with larger volume, market forces would drive down the price of Set Top Boxes. The Group also felt that the Broadcasters, MSOs and Cable Operators should be allowed the freedom to work out their individual business plans to subsidise the Set Top Boxes, in accordance with their own marketing strategy.

The Group acknowledged the fact that with progressive introduction of Digital Video Broadcasting technology, its combination with interactive return path, between the user and the Service operator, will pave the way for other Services, for which the Subscriber should be prepared to pay on the basis of charges fixed.

RECOMMENDATIONS

(a) The Conditional Access System and the supportive Subscriber Management System should be mandated under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.

(b) The Set Top Box shall be required only for "Pay" Channels and the "Free To Air" channels shall be receivable by the subscribers in the current mode, without Set Top Box. The encrypted channel should be defined as "Subscription based Channel".

(c) The Technical parameters of the Set Top Box shall conform to the Indian standards, to be prescribed by the Bureau of Indian Standards, in accordance with the provisions of the Bureau of Indian Standards Act, 1986. While doing so, the Bureau of Indian Standards may take into account the internationally acceptable standards and obtain recommendations from technologists and manufacturers of equipment.

(d) It shall be mandatory for the Equipment Provider/ Manufacturer to declare, in a transparent manner, the capability of the Set Top Box and its interoperability on other networks.

(e) In order to ensure transparency in the operations between MSOs, Cable Operators etc., the Government must be empowered to obtain detailed information, on regular basis,from each level of operation. This may include information on total subscriber base, on individual programmers, viewership of independence channels, subscription rates, charges fixed by the Broadcasters, Content Creators for each channel etc. Each subscriber shall be keep informed in a transparent manner of the subscription rates for each individual 'Pay' channel.

(f) Unauthorised viewing/ distribution/ redistribution of the broadcast signal should be made a cognizable offence.

(g) The Government should regulate the price of 'Basic Tier' of the 'Free-to-Air' channels. The Government should also be enabled to revise the cost of the 'Basic Tier', from time to time. The Government will also make a special provision for the channels of the Public Services Broadcaster. No government intervention was considered necessary with regard to the cost of the Set Top Box or the rates of the individual 'Pay' channel.

(h) There should be no requirement for change of the receiving set, irrespective of whether the consumer chooses to watch 'Free-to-Air' channels and/ or 'Pay' channels.

(i) There was an immediate need to educate the consumer on the operation of cable television, on the cost of content creation and its distribution upto the households. The Broadcasters, Content Creators and MSOs should not enhance the charges of the 'Pay ' channels arbitrarily, it should be done in a transparent manner.

(j) The packaging of services, includes Value Added Services, as well as the pricing of the paid bouquets would be left to market forces. However, consumer interest needed to be protected by providing efficient and responsive service and through a transparent and accurate billing and collection system. This will also ensure that the revenue accruable to the Government is determined in a fair manner.

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