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Suit salvo for TV channel choice

New Delhi, May 25: Consumer activist groups have actively taken up a campaign against the implementation of the conditional access system for cable television. The Consumer Coordination Council, a forum of 51 outfits, has instructed its lawyers to move court against the government decision.

“We could either file four separate PILs in the four metros or an omnibus one in the Supreme Court,” S. Krishnan, director of the council said.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee had yesterday “directed” I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad “to take into account consumer interest in implementing CAS”, sources said. Ministry officials say a few measures could be announced next week before the CAS regime rolls out.

But none of these assurances are being taken at face value.

“The 6.4 million cable and satellite consumers in four cities pay approximately Rs 100 crore in monthly subscription fees to cable operators. The consumers are now expected to cough up about Rs 3,500 crore by July 14 on set-top boxes and, thereafter, up to Rs 400 per month if they wish to receive the same set of channels they are receiving today,” Krishnan said.

Consumer activists argue CAS will bring bureaucracy into television viewing. “It is the ‘babudom’ in Delhi who will now decide which channels a consumer may see, that too, if he feels those free-to-air channels to be of ‘consumer interest’. This infringes on the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression and right to information,” Krishnan said.

The government notification on the basic tier (of 30 free-to-air channels at the rate of Rs 72 per month) has not specified which will be carried in each of the four metros. However, it has directed cable service providers to ensure that the channels are from the genres of news and current affairs, entertainment and sport.

Krishnan outlined the following reasons to junk CAS:

»The consumer will have to invest in a set-top box but will still not have the choice to ask and pay for the pay channels of his choice but will have to take the channels provided by the cable operator and multi-system operator

»The consumer has no choice of cable operator and is a victim of local monopolies

»The government has not set any service quality parameters for cable operators.

“The consumer is the worst hit in the CAS legislation,” Krishnan asserts. “Consumers will have to invest a lot of money, pay a lot more in the monthly fees and receive a lot less number of channels with absolutely no choice in his hands for either FTA or even pay channels. Besides, there is no redressal system.”

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