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Turn Dish: Get sex, breach security

29-March-2004
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Turn Dish: Get sex, breach security

Direct to home (DTH) users of Zee Group’s Dish TV have access to porn on tap. A diskette-like conditional access module (CAM) costing Rs 3,000 in the grey market is finding its way into 1,50,000-odd bedrooms spread from rural Punjab to Central police outposts in Himachal Pradesh. Some prefer to rent the CAM at Rs 50-100 a night.

Some keep the Zee dish aimed at 93.5 degrees (INSAT 3A) and wire the company’s set-top-box to another dish costing Rs 500.

Government’s infocom and security officials said they know what’s happening. They pleaded that there are more important priorities. An official in the ministry of home affairs (MHA) said informal queries have been made from Zee whether the CAM available in the market can be run on the common interface slot (CIS) of the DTH’s set-top-box. A Zee spokesperson confirmed that it is. He claimed that Dish TV cannot control “innovative practices” and what individual subscribers do with the hardware that his company places at their disposal.

“Don’t blame me. It is for (the) government to device appropriate tools,” Dish TV managing director Jawahar Goel claimed.

This isn’t just about sex. Security agencies don’t have the tech to intercept text messages that a DTH provider can aim at individual subscribers. Once Pakistan has DTH platforms, terrorists can use this loophole and receive instructions and alerts over SMS.

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman Pradip Baijal confirmed that DTH falls within his ambit, but added that his mandate is carriage not content. “Interconnect agreements, tariffs, the arrangement between different players...these are the issues where we have a role. I’m sure relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code should be taking care of other issues that you are referring to,” Baijal said.

Deeply suspicious of DTH, those like Roop Sharma attacked Baijal. The president of the Cable Operators Federation of India complained that “the TRAI chairman shrugs off his responsibility on one pretext or the other.” An angry Sharma wanted the TRAI “dissolved” and a more responsible organisation take up the range of issues that DTH has thrown up: national security, taxation, and the fait accompli on conditional access.

“(I&B minister) Ravi Shankar Prasad claims there is no conditional access in India, but that’s what DTH is, isn’t it! Today, any housing society can buy one dish and distribute pornography to a close-user group,” Sharma warned.

DTH guidelines involve security considerations. An Indian satellite is mandatory. Entry of foreign nationals in the premises of the DTH operator has to be cleared by the I&B ministry.

The government has okayed two DTH platforms so far. Dish TV, owned by Subhash Chandra of Zee was soft-launched in October 2003. It’s been plagued by poor content and fears of Zee’s existing band of cable partners. Arch-rival Rupert Murdoch of Star has sewn up a 20:80 deal with Ratan Tata for a competing bouquet called Space TV. A third one from Prasar Bharti is on its way. Capacity availability on the existing INSAT platforms is an issue that ISRO is sorting out.

DTH involves buying a small dish that connects directly to the satellite from a consumer’s home. No cable operator is needed. The service provider can offer a range of premium services.

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