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PM puts a cap on price of CAS debut
- Minister told to ensure rates are kept at current level

New Delhi, June 20: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today asked information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to ensure that “consumers do not have to pay more than what they are paying now after the implementation of the conditional access system”.

Prasad said he was considering several options — even coercion — but did not want to use the stick immediately.

The information and broadcasting ministry began a series of consultations with broadcasters and operators after the last time the Prime Minister summoned Prasad about four weeks ago. It was assessed at the time that subscribers would not have to pay more than Rs 200, inclusive of the price of the set-top box.

Today’s directive from the Prime Minister relaxes the norm somewhat because cable television subscription rates differ widely even within the four metros where CAS will roll out on July 14.

“Consumer interest is the most important consideration. That is also the Prime Minister’s concern. That is what we are working on. All the broadcasters also survive only when the consumers are happy. I am quite sure that we will be able to work out a solution,” Prasad said, after the meeting.

Earlier this week at a meeting called by the information and broadcasting secretary, Pawan Chopra, to shape the CAS regime, STAR presented a rate card that cable operators said would push subscription rates to more than Rs 500 a month. The Centre had threatened coercive action to peg down the rates.

“I know my powers in law,” Prasad said today, when asked if the government was still holding out the stick.

“My whole approach has been to appeal. Let us work as a team. CAS opens up whole new avenues for the country.”

The minister ruled out the possibility of either deferring the July 14 deadline or restricting the rollout of CAS to just one city (Chennai), as demanded by a section of broadcasters.

Broadcasters and operators led by Zee/Siticable have said they will present an alternative rate card tomorrow and ensure that subscriptions “are reasonable”.

But Siticable’s CAS operation, called “Headend In The Sky (HITS)”, is being seen by cable (last mile) operators as a threat to their businesses.

“The new technologies of DTH (direct to home) and HITS, which the government is encouraging into the country, will affect the last mile operator adversely, endangering our very existence,” the statement said.

The Prime Minister’s Office stepped into the picture yesterday when Vajpayee’s principal secretary Brajesh Mishra summoned Chopra for a briefing. A day earlier, Chopra had walked out of a meeting with multi-system operators and broadcasters after failing to thrash out a compromise on CAS.

Late last evening, Prasad, Chopra and other senior officials met among themselves and with broadcasters to help the Centre deliver on its promise to secure all pay channels for consumers at Rs 200 a month.

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