Industry given till 5 Nov. for final CAS comments

MUMBAI: The information & broadcasting ministry is laying the final groundwork for the tabling of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2002, that will bring about the introduction of conditional access systems (CAS) in the country.

I&B Ministry joint secretary Rakesh Mohan, who is heading the government task force on the introduction of CAS, has given interested parties (broadcasters and the cable industry) till 5 November for any last representations they may wish to make. After this the task force will prepare the final draft of the CAS Bill for tabling when Parliament convenes for the Winter Session by mid-November.

A meeting convened today in Mumbai by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) on the CAS issue saw good representation from both the broadcasters as well the cable industry for an intense debate on the proposed legislation. Mohan, while making it clear that the government had more or less made up its mind on the matter, said his task force was open to discussions on any further points the industry had to make.

Mohan stated that the government saw CAS as an enabling legislation that would be rolled out in the four metros in the first phase

According to sources who were present at the meeting, the gist of what Mohan had to say as regards the key issues, was as follows:

What is the basic cost per subscriber that an operator incurs for providing cable service? The costing estimate should include both investment as well as operational expenditure, Mohan said. He added that while the task force had its own estimates worked out, it was open to further clarifications as long as inflated costings were avoided.

The ministry had yet to take a final call on whether the basic tier (CAS provides for a two-tier system: basic and premium) should have a flat service charge or it needs to be based on a per channel costing. For instance, if a Rs 3 tab is put on each channel in the basic tier, then a 30-channel package will cost Rs 90.

Whether the government should decide the strength of the basic tier (as in the minimum number of channels that will be included) or whether it should spell out a minimum number of genres that should be included in the basic tier is still being debated.

On the issue of the government mandating the number of genres to be included, there appears to be a common opposition, not so on strength of the basic tier. Speaking for the cable fraternity were not just the MSOs, but local cable operators as well, who were quite forceful in their demand that the FTA package pricing needed to be determined by the government. The issue was that of their very survival was the point that was made.

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