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May 7, 2002 | 1250 IST
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CAS cleared, consumers need to pay only for channels they want

Bipin Chandran & Savio G Pinto

Ushering in a new era of freedom of choice for the cable TV subscribers, the government has accepted the joint industry and ministry of information and broadcasting task force on conditional access system, which allows the consumer to pay only for those channels, which he wants to subscribe to.

As per the recommendations the government would prescribe the price charged by cable operators for the basic tier of the bouquet of free to air channels.

The report recommended that while the government should not have any role to play in determining the subscription fees for pay channels and value added services offered by a cable operator or multi-system operators, there must be adequate transparency and accuracy in the pricing and billing system to protect the interests of the consumers.

The joint industry and ministry of information and broadcasting task force headed by I&B joint secretary Rakesh Mohan had recommended that all pay channels be routed through a set top box to give a consumer the choice to pay only for those which he wants to subscribe to.

The recommendations of the task force, which had representation from the government, cable operators, MSOs, broadcasters and consumers, are expected to form the basis for amendments to the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995. The government is expected to move the amendments in the next session of the Parliament.

The report had recommended that all encrypted channels be defined as "subscription based channels" while the unencrypted, or free to air channels, need not be routed through the set-top box.

The report says that the cost of the set-top box, which is likely to be between Rs 5000 and Rs 6000, should be left to the market forces as long as the consumer was made fully aware of the availability and capability of the equipment.

The Bureau of Indian Standards would prescribe the basic performance parameters for the set-top boxes keeping in mind the standards across the world.

The hardware specifications of the set top boxes have been left to the manufacturers on condition that they are compatible with existing television sets available with the consumers.

The I&B ministry had constituted the task force on CAS in September last year to resolve the issues of arbitrary rates charged by cable operators and under-reporting which results in revenue loss to broadcasters.

The cable industry, on the other hand has been hit by leading channels going pay and resorting to frequent hikes in subscription charges.

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