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Zone-wise box rollout on govt screen

New Delhi, July 3: Between munching pizza and appearing in television news, cable operators and multi-system operators today got to work in the office of the information and broadcasting ministry on a zone-wise rollout of the conditional access system (CAS) for cable television in manageable doses.

It is not yet known if the CAS regime, as is being envisaged now, will even cover Lutyens’ Delhi, the neighbourhood of I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

According to the original notification, CAS was to roll out in all four metros on July 15. However, ministry sources insist they are not signalling a rollback.

So, instead of a full-scale implementation of the regime in the four metros, the government is now coming round to the view that CAS is likely to be feasible only if its area of coverage is expanded from locality to locality in each of the four metros in a period of about three months.

The zone-wise rollout will mean that only cable television viewers in some localities of South Delhi and South Mumbai, to start with, will need to buy set-top boxes to access pay channels, Ashok Mansukhani, of the Hinduja-owned Incablenet, claimed after meetings in the ministry today.

Ministry sources also said the zone-wise rollout was at the moment the most favoured option. Poring over maps, officials are working on dividing Delhi into four zones and Bombay into three.

In Calcutta, Siticable’s executive vice president Rajeev Khattar said three zones may be created — south, central and north. Siticable has a much smaller operation than RPG Netcom in the city but Khattar said the two multi-system operators were evolving a consensus on where CAS should debut.

RPG Netcom’s Siddharth Mitra is expected to be in Delhi tomorrow when Rakesh Mohan, joint secretary in the ministry, will be in Calcutta.

Mrinal Chatterjee, Calcutta representative on the CAS task force, said: “An I&B ministry team has called a meeting tomorrow in Calcutta. We will work out the details at the meeting and only after that we will be in a position to announce the specifics, including, hopefully, the costs.”

It is likely that after a full assessment of the prospects of CAS is made in the four metros and a meeting with broadcasters and operators here tomorrow, the ministry will issue a fresh notification amending and relaxing the norms of the January 14 order.

The January 14 notification fixed the price of the basic tier of free-to-air channels at Rs 72 and made CAS mandatory in the four metros from July 15.

The Prime Minister’s Office, which has stepped into the picture, is expected to hold another round of talks with the broadcasters tomorrow.

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