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Atal for TV box focus on users

New Delhi, May 24: Atal Bihari Vajpayee today asked the information and broadcasting ministry to ensure that the conditional access system (CAS) for cable television “takes into account consumer interest”.

The Prime Minister had summoned information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad for a briefing on CAS against the background of intense lobbying that is being reflected in the contrary views being expressed within the BJP and outside despite a mandate to implement the system from July 14.

“I have briefed the Prime Minister on the preparedness for CAS and he said consumer interest should be taken into account,” Prasad said tersely after the meeting. Asked if CAS was on schedule to be implemented from July 14, information and broadcasting secretary Pawan Chopra, who was also present for the briefing, said: “Of course.”

The ministry’s main reason for implementing CAS is consumer interest.

The law enabling CAS was enacted on the ground that the cable television market is unregulated and it does not give viewers the freedom to pick and choose channels they want to see. However, even after the notification there has been a demand, chiefly from broadcasters, that CAS is either shelved or implemented more gradually.

“There is no rollback. There were some concerns on the availability of set top boxes and their pricing. There are no conditions attached to CAS as of now,” a source in the ministry said. The set top boxes are at the core of CAS and viewers choosing to watch pay channels will have to buy the equipment.

Among those who attended the meeting at the Prime Minister’s residence were Brajesh Mishra, Pradipto Ghosh and Ashok Tandon from the PMO, and Pawan Chopra, secretary, and Vijay Singh, additional secretary, in the ministry.

In another reflection of the intense rivalries in the cable television business, leaders of cable operators’ associations disrupted a press conference being addressed by consumer rights activists. “CAS is anti-consumer,” the activists said.

“In its present form, CAS gives the consumer absolutely no choice to choose the free-to-air channels or even the pay channels,” the Consumer Coordination Council, a forum of 51 consumer organisations, said in a statement. The council demanded an independent regulatory authority.

Intervening in the press conference, Roop Sharma, head of the Cable Operators Federation of India, and Rakesh Datta, of the Cable Networks Federation, alleged that the consumer rights activists were lobbying on behalf of broadcasters.

”The consumer activists have been sent here by Star and Sony,” Roop Sharma alleged. “If CAS is not implemented by July 14, we will hike cable rates upto Rs 500,” they threatened. The cable operators at first came to the press conference posing as journalists. (ENDS) sd/25052003/1940

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