The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Confused Bengal cry for go-slow on CAS

The West Bengal government has come out confused on the controversial conditional access system (CAS) and conveyed its reservations on “a hurried implementation” of the new regime to the Union information and broadcasting ministry.

In a letter addressed to Pawan Chopra, secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting, chief secretary Sourin Roy has expressed the government’s view, which the latter sought on the new format.

“The state government considers it prudent not to implement the new system in such a tearing hurry from July 15 and feels that status quo should be maintained till all the relevant issues are sorted out…..”

Citing “confusion” among consumers and the administration as constraint towards implementation of CAS the letter suggests the need for “further discussion” for a better deal to consumers.

City-based cable operators and multi-system operators (MSOs) have termed the state stand “regressive” and nothing but a “populist” attempt at the behest of a few consumer groups opposing CAS.

The government’s go-slow response to CAS is apparently triggered by a few complaints lodged with state cooperation and consumer affairs minister Naren De over the cost to the consumer issue. The price of the set-top boxes (STB) — in the range of Rs 2,200 to Rs 3,500 — seems to be a major concern for the Left government, which has suddenly taken a loud stand after remaining silent on the issue for the past six months.

“We had a meeting with the minister to discuss the consumer’s interest in the post-CAS regime. He had a lot of queries, and we gave him a detailed presentation,” said city-based cable operator and member of the CAS task force Mrinal Chatterjee. But the letter dashed off to Delhi gives an indication that the state government doesn’t want CAS in its present form.

Besides the variable cost — based on the price and the number of pay channels chosen — the consumer’s fixed cost per month will include Rs 72 for 30 free-to-air channels, 5 per cent state entertainment tax and 8 per cent central service tax.

And for rental schemes in STBs, the consumer will have to shell out between Rs 30 and Rs 45 per month.

“Preparations are complete for switching to CAS. At a time, when the cable operators and the MSOs are ready and everyone is waiting for the broadcasters to roll out the acceptable prices for the pay channels, the state government’s stand can’t be justified,” said Dilip Sen, chief executive officer, RPG Netcom.

Sen added that though some financial institutions have expressed their eagerness to finance STBs, no one has come out with any concrete plan.

“No one will roll out the schemes before a reasonable response from the market,” said Sen. He also added that the sophisticated CAS — with built-in audit trail in the system — will help customer getting the best deal. “The law empowers a customer to seek redressal from a police commissioner or a district magistrate (DM) or an assistant DM in case one feels cheated,” explained CAS task force member Chatterjee.

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