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Thackeray still jittery on CAS

Mumbai, June 13: Union information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today visited Mumbai to placate all stake-holders in the conditional access regime issue: cable operators, MSOs, broadcasters — and Bal Thackeray.

The minister spent more than two hours with the Shiv Sena chief, but Thackeray is still as opposed to CAS.

Refuting reports that the Sena chief had softened his stand after meeting Prasad, Sena MP Pritish Nandy, the spokesperson for Thackeray on the issue, said: “Thackeray is still as apprehensive about the fall-out of CAS consumers as he was before.”

Thackeray’s statement early this month — that CAS is a non-issue on which the Centre is wasting crores of worth of money and it will only go on to enrich Chinese manufacturers of set-top boxes — sent the city into a scare and some of cable operators sided with the Sena out of fear.

Prasad said he assured Thackeray that CAS would not prove costly to consumers. At a news conference later, he again took pains to prove that CAS is consumer-friendly.

The minister said MSOs and cable operators, whom he met in the morning, pledged to him that there will be a minimum of 70 free-to-air channels for Rs 72. Prasad, who also met a group of consumers mostly belonging to BJP MP Kirit Somaiya’s organisation, the Investors’ Guidance Forum, expressed hope that the number of pay channels would go up with time.

Asked what guarantee was there that the cable operators would provide 70 channels when the government notification fixed the minimum number at 30, Prasad gave the example of the mobile phone and said that no one had envisaged that incoming calls would be free one day. In the case of CAS, too, things would get better, he said.

He said the rent for a set-top box would not be more than Rs 30 per month and the average consumer should not have to pay more than Rs 200 per month as the pay channels would also be reasonably priced.

Prasad also said that within the 70 free-to-air channels, there would a lot of variety, with the MSOs and cable operators planning to slot around 50 entertainment channels, 10 news channels, DD and regional channels, and music channels like MTV and MCM.

Along with consumers, the minister took special care to stress that cable operators, who were an integral part of the television industry, would not suffer from CAS.

He did not dismiss the idea of a regulatory authority to ensure the quality of service after CAS is implemented, but said such a body can operate between stake-holders and would not involve consumers. He also said DTH would follow CAS soon.

The minister said he would be in touch with Bal Thackeray and Uddhav Thackeray on the issue, though Nandy said the Sena was as adamant as before.

Prasad said the deadline for broadcasters to announce the price of pay channels has been extended by three to four days.

But consumer rights activists are not happy with Prasad’s pledges. Anand Patwardhan from the Consumers Guidance Society said that despite Prasad’s views that the consumer will not have to pay more, the customer has had to pay more in every country that has adopted CAS.

He added that there was no sports channel that was included among the Free-to-air channels.

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