There appears to be no end in sight to the woes of South Delhi residents, with no word from the government on whether it plans to scrap the conditional access system (CAS), and cable operators threatening to take legal recourse in case it does.
Armed with the government’s ‘field report’ on the adverse impact of CAS, the Centre is all set to issue an ordinance within a week to seal the fate of CAS. On their part, the cable service providers called a media meet last evening to claim that this move is has a consequence of the decision to prepone the general elections.
Asserting that pursuing CAS may mean a fallout with the pay channels’ broadcasters, whose support is crucial to the government in view of the elections, Roop Sharma, President, Cable Operators Federation of India stated that the government must keep the industry free from political interpretations and influences if it wants the industry to grow. Points in favor of CAS include “transparency in the industry, more revenues to the government, freedom of choice to the consumers, true subscriber numbers and correct TRPs.”
The press conference called by the cable fraternity had a single agenda: communicate to the populace of Delhi, especially South Delhi, that their support is needed to make CAS a reality. “The meet has been called to educate the consumer on the pros and cons of CAS, the politics involved, the high-handedness of the broadcasters, most of whom have raised prices for pay channels, and the Catch-22 situation in which the cable industry is in,” stated an aggressive Sharma.
“It is a scam! The pay broadcasters, with their manipulated TRPs are shaky. With the implementation of CAS, the process will become transparent. The scam lies in helping these pay broadcasters to avoid CAS. The forthcoming elections make it pertinent that the government keeps these broadcasters happy as their support plays a vital role in the power of politics,” continued an agitated Sharma.
The cable operators went as far as stating that if CAS is withdrawn, they will be forced to hike the total cable bill to beyond Rs 600 per month, holding government inaction and broadcaster monopoly responsible for the present fiasco.
But why has it been said that CAS is not consumer friendly? “It cannot be said prima face that CAS is not consumer friendly. Technologies have to be given time to prove itself. Each member of a family has their own mobile handset today, so why is there such a hue and cry about individual set top boxes?” questions Sharma.
But what is the government doing against “predatory pricing” i.e. pay channels which forced consumers to purchase entire bouquets instead of individual channels? “The government must understand the meaning of the phrase, ‘consumer friendly’, it must regulate the rates of the pay channels. It must ensure that they are not priced in bouquets in such a manner that the consumer is given no choice in selecting the channels of his liking,” outlined cable operator Vikki Chaudhary. “I would also like to request consumers not to buy set top boxes at present. Let broadcasters realize their faults and soon several pay channels will become free to air, like it happened in Chennai,” he continued.
The buzz is ‘rent’, as opposed to ‘buy’. A common consumer concern is regarding non-transferability i.e. set top boxes bought from one cable operator cannot decode signals from another operator without changing frequency settings, thereby shifting from South Delhi to another zone could mean buying a new box. Sharma advises Delhi residents to rent set-top boxes, “Set top boxes are refundable, so if you’re not happy, you can return it and get your money back; besides, you can rent one to sample CAS if you are unsure about it.”
The media meet ended with a plea, “The government should stop thinking and start acting, with an interim broadcast regulator in place. We want Sushma Swaraj and Rakesh Mohan back until this issue is resolved; they can honestly implement CAS. The current lot doesn’t have political will; they are spineless,” stormed Sharma.
With time running out for all the stakeholders of CAS – including the government – such activities are likely to increase in the coming days. The government, on its part, is toying with the idea of an ordinance, which the cable operators are prepared to counter. “The implementation of CAS was done under a High Court order and if the government plans to bring an ordinance to scrap it, we will go to court and appeal against this,” stated cable operator Rakesh Datta.
The future of CAS is anybody’s guess. Too many people have too much at stake to care about consumer interests. The government wants to keep pay broadcasters happy; the pay broadcasters want to conceal false TRPs; the multi-system operators expect to sell set top boxes worth around Rs. 36-billion… at even a 15-20% profit margin, some people stand to make between Rs 5-7-billion profit. Why, then, should the consumer figure in the scheme of things?