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CAS may make you cough out more or less both

Written by: Staff

New Delhi, Jul 23: The moot question before TV viewers after the court order for implementation of the Conditional Access System (CAS) in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata is whether their monthly cable bill will increase or decrease.

The answer can be both affirmative and negative. A lot depends on whether the government is able to make the pay channels like Star and Sony etc. agree to give their individual channels to the consumers or bunch them in a bouquet, as insisted by them.

A senior Information and Broadcasting Ministry official told sources that pay channels will be compelled to offer consumers a choice to have their channels individually instead in a bouquet and to give a heavy discount to those wanting to have them in a bouquet.

He said the Government effort is to have the most consumer-friendly CAS. For fixing the Maximum retail price of individual channels and fixed monthly charges, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was preparing a format.

But these prices will not be much different from the ones decided upon when CAS was to be introduced earler in 2003, but was deferred, he added. Now, as per the Court order CAS is to be in place in the notified areas of the three metros by January one, 2007.

As per the earlier plan, subscriber was to pay Rs 72 for free-to-air channels and RS 20 for each of the pay channels.

While all the news channels are free, almost all the entertainment channels like Star and Sony and sports channels are to be paid for.

Going down of monthly cable bill depends on inclinations and preferences of individual households too.

Those in favour of CAS argue that under the new regime, monthly cable charges will decrease.

Jawahar Goyal of the Zee TV Network told sources that CAS would ultimately go in favour of the consumers, as they will not have to pay for those channels they did not want to see.

Roop Sharma of the Cable Operators Federation of India(COFI) said monthly rentals were bound to go down once CAS was in place as most of the people do not see more than five to six pay channels besides news.

''Suppose if a household pays about Rs 75 as fixed charge and Rs 25 for each of the five or six pay channels, the total bill will not come up to about Rs 200 or 225, while at present cable operators, for example in Delhi, were charging a lumpsum amount of Rs 250 to 300, so in any case the consumer was not going to lose'' she said.

However, a number of industry analysts, the bill might generally go up too as consumers' choice was not limited to just five or four channels. They view over a hundred channels for a price ranging from 200 or even Rs 150 in some areas to Rs 300 under the existing system.

So, if those who want to see even ten pay channels, suppose each costing about Rs 25, the bill will go up to a minimum of Rs 250 plus about Rs 75 as fixed charge, thus shooting beyond Rs 300.

Under the existing system, Cable TV subscribers get both free to air (FTA) and pay channels at a rate fixed by the cable operator. There is variation in rates from city to city and even in areas and localities within a city. The broadcasters have bunched their channels into bouquets and the subscribers have to pay even for those channels which they do not want to view.

There is an arbitrary increase in monthly subscription rates at frequent intervals.

The Multi-System Operators (MSOs) and cable operators blame the Broadcasters for hiking the price of their pay channels resulting in frequent raise in subscription rates.

The Broadcasters blame the cable operators for under-reporting the number of subscribers resulting in loss of revenue to the broadcasters and also evasion of entertainment tax, service tax and even income tax.

In order to protect the consumers from arbitrary and frequent increase of subscription rates, the Government amended the Cable Television Act to make the viewing of pay channels through an addressable system (Conditional Access System).

The new system was to come into force in 2003 itself, but was deferrred due to people's opposition.

CAS advocates say that it would bring transparency in the system, since accurate figures of subscriber base would be available and broadcasters would not take the under-reporting plea for hikes in rates of pay channels.

The issue of under declaration by the cable operators shall vanish as periodic information has to be submitted by them to the Government regarding connectivity. That information shall be available to broadcasters also.

AS for the challenge from the Direct to Home (DTH) TV, they say that in a country like India there is huge cable network, so it was not feasible to shift all the traffic to DTH.

The experiences of the developed countries show that both (DTH and CAS) can co-exist, they say.

Under CAS, If the subscribers wish to view pay channels they will have to use 'Set Top Box' (STB) through which the channels, which they wish to view would reach them.

No STB is required if the subscriber wants to watch only the free to air (FTA) channels.

The I&B official said under the system going to be introduced, the consumers will be given STB by Multi Service Operators (MSCs) on monthly rental and if the consumer goes out of the CAS-covered area, he will be given back his money.

''There are a lot of things which are to be worked out between TRAI and other stakeholders. Our only effort was to bring in transparency in the system and to secure the consumer's interest.


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