In a path breaking move, the government has accepted the joint industry and ministry of information and broadcasting task force on conditional access system (CAS), 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 (MSO), 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 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 (BIS) would prescribe the basic performance parameters for the set-top boxes keeping in mind the standards across the world.
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.
On the other hand, in his meeting with few independent cable operators privately in Delhi to discuss plaguing the industry, Star Group chairman James Murdoch expressed that he was not in favour of a steep subscriber fee hike or the introduction of conditional access soon.
According to sources, Star believes that neither the consumer nor the cable operators are ready to pay for the box. Besides, it would be difficult to supply boxes to all of the almost 38 million cable homes.
The independent cable operators opined that conditional access would be a better alternative to jacking up subscription fees, which could go above Rs 300 a month.
Expressing concern, sources in Star said that t would be difficult to supply boxes to all of the almost 38 million cable homes. “It will take at least 4-5 years to get those boxes in for so many homes. Even with a phased approach, feeding the metros alone will take time. The technology issue has to also be sorted out,” said Star India chief executive officer Peter Mukerjea.