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Set-top shelved till September

New Delhi, July 4: The set-top box regime for cable television is being deferred by around 45 days to September 1.

But even the pilot of the conditional access system (CAS), information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad — who was sure he will need a set-top box in his house and office from July 15 — now cannot say when he will need to instal the equipment that will decode pay channels.

For August, all cable subscribers in the metros will have to pay not more than Rs 72 (plus taxes) to view all channels. (In Calcutta, consumers will have to pay the existing rates for the rest of July.)

Prasad was called in to make the formal announcement after spending a full working day in the Prime Minister’s Office, during which broadcasters and cable operators brainstormed at a meeting called by trouble-shooter Sudheendra Kulkarni, officer on special duty in the PMO and I&B media adviser.

Both the minister and the PMO officer briefed deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani on the proceedings.

Prasad said he was “happy” a consensus had been reached “in accordance with the Prime Minister’s wishes”. The sum of his announcement is:

  §CAS will not be implemented from July 15.

  §Each of the four metros will be divided into four zones with CAS being implemented zone-wise from September 1. A zone each will be taken up for CAS coverage every month from September 1, the last being on December 1. Calcutta will be divided into north, south, central and southeast-southwest.

  §Pay channel broadcasters will “waive” their fees for August and for zones where the CAS coverage does not extend to popularise set-top boxes.

  §From July 15-31, broadcasters, multi-system operators (MSOs) and cable operators will conduct an awareness campaign to popularise set-top boxes.

Prasad was largely kept out of today’s negotiations, attended by STAR’s Peter Mukerjea and Sameer Nair, Discovery’s Deepak Shourie, Sony’s Kunal Dasgupta, ESPN’s Manu Sawhney, Zee/Siticable’s Jawahar Goel, and representatives of MSOs Hathway (Wincable) and the Hinduja-owned Incablenet. The PMO apprised him over phone.

The Indian and foreign-owned channels were clearly divided with the latter extracting CAS deferment against a promise to waive pay-channel fees till the system’s implementation.

Indian broadcasters such as Aaj Tak’s G. Krishnan, SABe TV’s Markand Adhikari, Sahara TV’s Sumit Roy and Eenadu TV’s J. Venkat — who were not present at the meeting — “denounced the arm-twisting tactics of foreign broadcasters who are keen on deferment of CAS implementation in the country”.

Their public statement said: “By submitting to the rollout plan…they (politicians) would be opening the Indian airwaves to a foreign invasion.”

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