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May 13, 2002 | 1230 IST
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Govt can decide who sees what on cable TV

Bipin Chandran

The amendments to the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, will put significant discretionary powers in the hands of the government so far as the broadcast of channels under the conditional access system is concerned.

The amendments propose to give the government powers to decide not only the number of free-to-air channels but also which channels a cable operator can offer.

In addition, the government can also decide the free-to-air feed for different cities. It can thus block a certain free-to-air channel in a city or a state if it thinks it is in the public interest.

The new law also proposes to give powers to the government to specify the maximum amount that a cable operator can charge for the basic service tier (the bouquet of free-to-air channels). Again, the government can specify different rates for different places.

The pricing of the pay channels will be left to the discretion of the broadcasters.

While broadcasters agree that the Bill will benefit them in the long run, they insist that the issue of implementation needs to be addressed first.

The Indian Broadcasting Foundation has pointed out that the transition should be carried out in phases and it should also be planned well to enable the consumers to benefit from the switch over.

The foundation has also demanded that the Bill to amend the Indian Television Networks Act should be referred to the parliamentary standing committee on information technology and telecom headed by Somnath Chatterjee.

Pointing out the factors that might hinder the implementation of the conditional access system, the foundation's executive director Bhuvan Lall said, "There are many issues concerning technology, funding, availability of set-top boxes, regulation and non-discriminatory implementation that need to be addressed. Further, all the issues related to the implementation of the conditional access system need to be addressed in totality."

The Indian Broadcasting Foundation is of the opinion that the amendments to the Cable TV Regulation Act are unlikely to resolve the fundamental issues faced by the industry.

"If the government wants to bring down the fee for cable TV subscription, it should take steps to check under-declaration by cable operators," said Star India CEO Peter Mukherjea.

The foundation has also asked the industry, broadcasters, vendors, cable operators and regulators to work together to work out model for the conditional access system.

"In the meantime, the broadcasters have decided to come together and focus on the immediate problem of under-declaration and demand 100 per cent transparency from cable operators," Lall said.

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