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With elections around, govt to put on hold steps to clear up CAS mess

17-February-2004
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With elections around, govt to put on hold steps to clear up CAS mess

The regulator’s word on the conditional access system (CAS) is expected to be out in a few days, according to sources in the government. Based on the soon-to-be-issued interim finding of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), the government is likely to put CAS on hold till the broadcasting sector is put in order. It is understood that Trai’s interim report would highlight the mess that CAS is in. Ahead of Lok Sabha elections, the government is likely to defer a system that is not consumer-friendly.

The regulator, which was given the additional responsibility of the broadcasting sector recently, is consulting legal experts before issuing the interim report. Sources said that Trai holds the view that CAS should be introduced only after the various aspects of the broadcasting and cable industry are firmed up. Offering subsidised set-top boxes to consumers may be among the recommendations of Trai.

Trai chairman Pradip Baijal had earlier told eFE that CAS, as per law, should have been in force in all metros. But, the new cable distribution system is on only in Chennai and in a very diluted form in South Delhi. The regulator is likely to focus on how states and industry stakeholders are on the wrong side of law, as far as CAS is concerned.

Mr Baijal had met information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and senior ministry officials last week to discuss CAS and other broadcasting-related issues. Costing of set-top boxes and pricing of pay channels are some of the things that the regulator is examining.

Court cases for and against CAS have been a part of the system ever since it was announced. The Delhi high court ruling, which had triggered CAS rollout in the first zone of the capital, wanted the system to be in place for three months as an experimental run. The three-month period will be over on March 26.

Trai would also issue the final consultation paper on CAS this week, according to Mr Baijal. The paper would invite comments of all stakeholders.

Recently, Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa shot off a letter to Mr Prasad, requesting him to stop CAS in Chennai.

The government had mandated CAS for all four metros, in phases, from September 2003. CAS refers to a subscriber accessing pay channels of his choice through a set-top box at his premises and paying for only those.

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